Carnitine, or L-Carnitine is an amino acid compound that is produced naturally in the human liver, brain, and kidneys. It is also present in high levels in red meat. Amino acids, as you probably already know, are used by the body to build proteins, neurotransmitters, nucleotides, and other molecules that are crucial to biological processes.
Carnitine’s role in the body is in the transport of fatty acids from the cytosol (the fluid inside the cells) into the mitochondria (often referred to as the “power plant” of the cell), where they are metabolized.
Carnitine is often taken as a supplement by body builders, for extra strength, energy and stamina. Weight-loss dieters have also been known to take carnitine supplements, in order to increase the rate at which the body uses fatty acids, and thus, speed up their metabolic rates.
While it is well-known that amino acids are crucial for the human body to function properly, it would be fair to say that science does not yet fully grasp the complexity of their roles. New advancements in scientific understanding often reveal unexpected information.
Such is the case with a recent revelation about carnitine’s role in the human body. A recent medical study published by the journal, Nature Medicine, found that high levels of carnitine in the blood can increase risks of cardiovascular disease, and major adverse cardiac events, such as myocardial infarction (heart attack) and stroke.
This causal relationship has been linked to the fact that human gut bacteria convert L-carnitine into trimethylamine-N-oxide (or TMAO), a compound shown to cause atherosclerosis, or clogged arteries. The more carnitine that is ingested, the more these bacteria multiply, and the more TMAO they produce.
However, (the plot thickens here) a recent Mayo Clinic study suggested that L-carnitine has notable beneficial effects in those recovering from heart attacks, reducing the chances of death during recovery, ventricular arrhythmias, and attacks of angina.
So, should L-carnitine be completely eliminated from the diet? Of course not. Completely curtailing carnitine intake would be difficult, even on a strict vegetarian diet, and there is nothing to indicate that doing so would be advantageous. In fact, quite the opposite.
However, those who are considering taking a carnitine supplement to lose weight, or enhance athletic performance may want to reconsider. Many doctors and nutritional experts indicate that much about carnitine’s role in the body is still a mystery. Plus, the health benefits of carnitine supplementation seem somewhat dubious, in light of the newly revealed risks.
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