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In the fight against chronic stress, depression, and age-related cognitive decline, acetyl-L-carnitine supports brain function and mental wellbeing.
Whether it’s preventing anxiety and depression, enhancing memory, improving attention and focus, or just maintaining overall brain function as we age, brain health is top of mind (pun intended) for many of us. For anyone looking to reduce the effects of stress on the brain, combat depression, and enhance overall brain performance, including mood and memory, the supplement acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR) should be at the top of your list.
A derivative of L-carnitine, ALCAR easily crosses the blood brain barrier where it increases brain carnitine levels and helps increase acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter vital to learning, memory, and general cognition (severe depletion of acetylcholine is associated with Alzheimer’s disease). Acetylcholine also supports neuronal plasticity, your brain’s ability to change and grow throughout your lifetime.1 Maintaining levels of this neurotransmitter is critical for a healthy brain.
As we age and/or experience chronic stress, carnitine levels decline in the brain and body.2 Because carnitine is so critical for healthy energy production in the mitochondria, this age related or stress-related drop causes mitochondrial activity to slow down and contributes to a host of neurological issues, including memory loss, depression, and more. Further, ailing, poor-functioning mitochondria put a large amount of oxidative stress on the body, which can accelerate the aging process and lead to chronic inflammation.3 ALCAR increases the efficiency of mitochondrial energy production in the brain and supports overall mitochondrial health, reducing both oxidative damage and inflammation.4
Research has shown that ALCAR can improve cognitive function, particularly in people who are starting to experience age-related decline.5 In one study, scientists found that carnitine levels in older animals are about 20 percent lower than younger ones, and that supplementation with ALCAR helped restore them.6 And in a study of older men and women between the ages of 70 and 88, those who took a daily supplement of ALCAR had a significant increase in both their physical and mental energy levels, along with an improvement in their overall cognitive function.7
Research investigating ALCAR’s mechanisms of action is helping to give more insight into how and why stress can lead to depression.
In one study published in Molecular Psychiatry, researchers examined mice exposed to prolonged stress, finding structural changes in the amygdala, the part of the brain known to regulate emotions, including fear and anxiety. 8 Changes in the amygdala have also been linked with anxiety and depressive disorders.
During the study, mice endured 21 days of periodic confinement in a small space and then scientists tested to see how their behavior changed. They also analyzed neurons within three regions of the amygdala. They found that neurons in the medial amygdala shrank. This kind of damage can lead to an inability to adapt to new experiences and contribute to feeling depressed.
They later repeated the chronic stress experiment, this time giving some mice ALCAR supplementation toward the end of the 21 days. These animals fared far better than the ones who did not receive ALCAR and their medial amygdalas showed more branching, or growth. A 2018 meta-analysis found that ALCAR supplementation in humans significantly lowers depressive symptoms compared with placebo or no intervention, and does so with fewer adverse effects than established antidepressants, especially in older adults. Further, several of the trials included in the review showed ALCAR to be as effective as prescription antidepressants in reducing depressive symptoms, with fewer side effects. The average dose was 3 grams per day.9 10
ALCAR has also been studied for its ability to help those with Alzheimer’s disease, which affects an estimated 5.8 million Americans.11 An early study from 1998 found that daily ALCAR supplementation lead to improvements in cognitive function and slowed the progression of the disease in Alzheimer’s patients who were younger than 61.12 Recent studies have upheld those initial findings, showing the earlier patients start taking ALCAR, the more effective it is. Doses ranging from 1.5 to 3 grams per day for at least three months consistently show improvements in cognitive function several-fold greater than placebo, with significant improvements in attention, memory, and intellectual functioning.13 14 With its ability to easily cross the blood-brain barrier and support healthy mitochondria and energy production in the brain, in addition to reducing oxidative damage and inflammation, ALCAR is proving to be a valuable neuroprotective supplement.
With its ability to easily cross the blood-brain barrier and support healthy mitochondria and energy production in the brain, in addition to reducing oxidative damage and inflammation, ALCAR is proving to be a valuable neuroprotective supplement.