I’ve had a lot of people requesting information about a really simple amino acid that has gotten very complicated over the years due to different types provided to the consumer. If you’re confused about what L-Carnitine does, how to optimize its benefits and what each type does specifically, read on and I’ll do my best to break it down for you.
First, let’s start with L-Carnitine. It’s a conditionally essential amino acid, and in fact isn’t necessarily an amino acid, as much as it is a dipeptide, or two amino acids joined together. Lysine and Methionine can be bound together to provide L-Carnitine, so it is considered “conditionally essential”. My take is that if you are pushing your body hard and you have limited your intake of any aminos, then supplementing with L-Carnitine could be of benefit. L-Carnitine is responsible for the delivery of fatty acids to the mitochondria, or more specifically – it esterifies the fatty acids, making it transport into the powerhouse of the cells. L-Carnitine can be broken back down into Lysine and Methionine in the blood, in a reaction known as hydrolysis. The bonds are broken and we are left with the two former amino acids.
One of the drawbacks to L-Carnitine supplementation, in terms of astounding, mind-blowing results are concerned, has to do with saturation of the mitochondria. Only so much L-Carnitine can be stored up, so taking tons of it will only help if you are deficient in this amino, and then at some point, once saturation is reached, there isn’t going to be any net gain. There is hope however. By increasing insulin, through diet manipulation or using exogenous insulin, L-Carnitine transport can be increased beyond what is normally held in the mitochondria. There has been a lot of discussion as to whether or not this works, and there is definitely a cautionary tale or two to be found when messing around with insulin. The drawback to increasing Insulin by means of dietary manipulation, i.e. consuming sugars, is just that: You have now increased calorie consumption, and have spiked insulin levels in the presence of carbs. This method may offset the benefits of increased Carnitine supplementation, although it’s important to point out that adequate L-Carnitine levels, specifically Acetyl-L-Carnitine levels, can shift the mitochondrial preference of fuel over to fatty acids instead of carbohydrate. But I am not going to suggest anyone start using insulin, nor am I going to speculate on whether the added carbohydrate intake necessary to induce an insulin spike sufficient to drive up and super-saturate cells with L-Carnitine is going to be a positive net gain.
Overall, L-Carnitine is conditionally essential, but I will add that I can definitely tell a difference in my body when I am taking Acetyl-L-Carnitine. That may be more for the other reasons I am about to expand upon, but there is definitely something very noticeable about it. My muscles feel fuller, my workouts tend to be less exhausting (which makes sense because L-Carnitine helps remove excess ammonia from cells) and I have noticed a much more stable blood sugar level using a glucometer.
So here is a quick run-down of the benefits of L-Carnitine
- Increased Fat Loss
- Increased Muscle Mass
- Decreased Bone Loss
- Heart Health
- Male Infertility
- Type 2 Diabetes Symptom Improvement
- Brain Function
I think it’s important to point out here. Most of these benefits are really the outcome of correcting a deficiency. In other words, if you are deficient in L-Carnitine, then you will most likely achieve some success using this. If you are topped off, it’s still a good idea to supplement, but this isn’t a drug that will go above and beyond what you would expect from anything that was once deficient and is now restored.
Different Types, Different Benefits
So what is the big deal about the different types of L-Carnitine? Well it basically comes down to what that specific extra “stuff” is that is attached to the L-Carnitine. In some instances, the type can help increase absorption, but for the most part, the benefits come down to the extra components of that L-Carnitine formula. For instance….
Acetyl L-Carnitine is probably one of the most popular forms of L-Carnitine available today. What makes it unique is that it is acetylated. The acetyl group bound to L-Carnitine is useful for a number of reasons. One, it enhances transport across the blood-brain barrier. This will boost L-Carnitine levels in the brain, which can lead to better functioning mitochondria there. Two, the acetyl group is also used in the break-down of fatty acids in what is known as the Acetyl-Coa cycle. Acetyl L-Carnitine has been studied for its effects on everything from heart health, glucose metabolism, all the way to nerve growth factors and depression.
Glycine Propionyl L-Carnitine
Most of GPLC’s (Glycine Propionyl L-Carnitine) benefits, in my opinion, come down to its effect on nitrate levels. GPLC has a unique ability to increase nitrate levels, which elevates nitric oxide levels, leading to a greater degree of muscle pump, and relaxed arterial constriction. Several studies have been done, studying its effect on sprinters and those engaged in moderate exercise. Another benefit of GPLC comes from the increased Glycine consumption, since this formula contains glycine, a useful anti-oxidant in its own right.
The basic advantage of L-Carnitine-L-Tartrate is that its salt form seems to absorb quicker, although there really aren’t any major differences in bioavailability. In other words, it gets into the bloodstream quicker, but not necessarily better.
So what kind should I take?
That’s a good question. Should you take it? Even better.
I think many people who love to take supplements and workout hard are going to find a great deal of benefit from Acetyl L-Carnitine and/or GPLC. It really depends on your budget and how your body responds to it. I’m not going to advise on using these with insulin, but know that there is a lot of discussion out there about an injectable form that used along with insulin, can lead to noticeable fat loss and energy results.
I would also add one thing to my recommendation. Should you feel the desire to experiment with this amino acid, I also suggest taking R-Alpha Lipoic Acid. Preferably a stable form, such as the Potassium salt, otherwise known as K-R-Ala, or the sodium salt, Na-R-Ala. Together with Acetyl L-Carnitine, or any type of Carnitine, you are getting a great deal of anti-oxidant protection, along with glucose control that will rival even some pharmaceutical preparations such as metformin. This has been my experience.