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Carnitine is a substance found in almost every cell in the body, it is biosynthesized from the amino acids lysine and methionine. The compound plays a crucial role in energy production, as it is responsible for transporting fatty acids to the mitochondria.
Mitochondria exist inside every cell in our bodies. They are responsible for producing the energy that cells need to function. You can think of mitochondria as being tiny power stations.This Medical News Today information article provides details on what carnitine is, how much of it you should consume, its potential uses in medicine, whether it improves athletic performance, and the side effects associated with its use.
According to the Office of Dietary Supplements1, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), carnitine transports long-chain fatty acids into mitochondria where they are burned (oxidized) to produce energy.
Carnitine also transports waste and toxic compounds out of the mitochondria, preventing their buildup. Given these key functions, skeletal and cardiac muscle that use fatty acids as a dietary fuel have high concentrations of carnitine.
There are three different forms of carnitine:
The body normally produces enough carnitine. However, some people cannot produce enough of the compound due to genetic or medical reasons.According to the Muscular Dystrophy Association2, carnitine deficiency can be caused by "a genetic mutation in the protein responsible for bringing carnitine into the cell (primary carnitine deficiency), or it may occur secondary to other metabolic diseases (secondary carnitine deficiency)."
It is not necessary for healthy adults and children to take supplements containing carnitine as the liver and kidneys usually produce enough of it.
In 1989, The Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) of the National Academies (formerly National Academy of Sciences) concluded that carnitine is not an essential nutrient.3
However, people who lack this compound may need to take supplements or eat carnitine-enriched foods.
Foods that provide carnitine are mainly animal products. Red meat has one of the highest concentrations.
Foods high in carnitine include:
Adults whose diets are rich in red meat consume on average around 60-180 mg of carnitine per day, compared to only 10-12 mg per day among vegans.
Carnitine is said to have many therapeutic properties that may be useful in treating a range of conditions and illnesses. As an antioxidant, carnitine fights off harmful free radicals, which cause severe damage to cells.
Health conditions that carnitine may be used to treat include:
Go to any sports supplement or health shop and you will see carnitine for sale on the shelves. Thousands of athletes and gym enthusiasts swear by it.
The hypothesis is that carnitine supplementation improves exercise performance in healthy athletes through various mechanisms. It is said to improve muscle fatty acid oxidation, alters glucose homeostasis, enhances acylcarnitine production, modifies the way the body responds to training, and alters muscle fatigue resistance.
Eric A. Brass, at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, Torrance, California, carried out a study which was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition8. He gathered and analyzed data from several studies and found that it was not possible to draw any definitive conclusion.
Brass wrote that the studies suggest that carnitine supplementation for healthy athletes does not improve maximal oxygen uptake or metabolic status during exercise. Although taking supplementation was found to increase blood levels of carnitine, it did not result in increased muscle carnitine content.
Brass concluded "Additional clinical trials integrating physiologic, biochemical, and pharmacologic assessments are needed to definitively clarify any effects of carnitine on exercise performance in healthy persons."
Taking carnitine supplements should be supervised by a doctor, especially if you suffer from the following conditions:
Side effects may include:
Written by Joseph Nordqvist
Copyright: Medical News Today
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Nordqvist, Joseph. "What is carnitine?." Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 8 Sep. 2013. Web.
9 Dec. 2013. <http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/265761>
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