Carnitine and the Heart: Partners in Health
Partners in Health
By Mark Becker
Carnitine is a fascinating compound with profound health benefits. It has been clinically validated as a nutrient that provides heart health benefits, especially for symptoms tied to heart disease. In fact, health professionals are adding carnitine to the list of nutrients needed to keep the heart going strong.
Interestingly, when people think of using carnitine supplements, they think of improved athletic performance. Carnitine use for athletes is particularly helpful for people who participate in endurance and/or prolonged cardiovascular activities. Carnitine is beneficial for these endurance athletes because it helps move fatty acids into the powerhouse of the cell called the mitochondria. From there, the fatty acids can be used in the energy production cycle.
Carnitine is made in the body from two amino acids, lysine and methionine, and is produced, in part, by vitamin C. Dietary sources include beef and pork, as well as small amounts found in chicken, fish and milk.
The major benefits of carnitine supplementation are for the heart. Carnitine plays a vital and complex role in cardiac metabolism. Some people have heart conditions that cause a carnitine deficiency, so carnitine supplements make sense.
Research has shown that carnitine has benefits for people with heart failure and chest pain, and protects patients from further heart damage following a heart attack. In particular, data has pointed to benefits for patients with kidney failure and heart disease. Carnitine supplementation is becoming much more common for patients with heart disease, and as previously stated, has been shown to help treat some very serious heart conditions, including:
- Angina: Some good evidence shows that carnitine can be used along with conventional treatment for stable angina. Several clinical trials show that carnitine and glycine propionyl-L-carnitine can help reduce symptoms of angina and improve the ability of people with angina to exercise without chest pain. Caution: do not self-treat chest pain with carnitine. Consult your health care professional for diagnosis, treatment, and recommendations on supplementing with carnitine.
NOTE: Glycine propionyl-L-carnitine, also known as GlycoCarn, is a propionyl ester of carnitine that includes an additional glycine component. Compared with other forms of carnitine, GlycoCarn works as a nitric oxide booster, exhibiting a special affinity for muscle tissues, such as the heart. In addition, it helps boost nitric oxide health, acting as a powerful scavenger against superoxide radicals, and protects against lipid peroxidation.
- Heart attack: Studies have shown that carnitine may help when used with conventional medicines after a heart attack. Some small studies suggest that people who take carnitine supplements soon after a heart attack may be less likely to have another heart attack, die of heart disease, have chest pain and/or abnormal heart rhythms, or develop heart failure. Carnitine may also improve muscle weakness.
- Heart failure: A few small studies have suggested that glycine propionyl-L-carnitine can help reduce symptoms of heart failure and improve exercise capacity in people with heart failure.
Additionally, a recent meta-analysis by the Mayo Clinicshowed that taking carnitine supplements reduces the risk of ventricular arrhythmias by 65% and the risk of angina by 40%.
A Misleading Study
Recently, there have been several negative media reports on carnitine suggesting that the nutrient is bad for the heart. A study conducted by the Cleveland Clinic and published online in the journal, Nature Medicine, suggests that orally dosed carnitine, either from red meat or taken in supplement form, is metabolized by intestinal bacteria to produce a substance called trimethylamine (TMA). This substance is then further metabolized into trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO). The study indicates that TMAO prevents excess cholesterol from being excreted, allowing it to penetrate artery walls. This activity is being studied as the reason for increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
But, as is often the case with many studies, we need to take a closer look. In a nutshell, there are two (2) major flaws with the study:
The first is focusing on TMAO as a cardiac risk factor. There is very little evidence linking TMAO to heart disease. In fact, according to www.lef.org, only three studies exist on TMAO and heart disease. Interestingly, TMAO is not even accepted as a cardiac risk factor among health professionals.
The second issue is that the study indicates that gut bacteria is what makes the difference in TMAO levels. The main reason vegans and vegetarians don’t make significant amounts of TMAO is due to differences in gut bacteria. It’s important to note that certain strains of gut bacteria have been linked to different diseases. One of these is Streptococcus bovis. In fact, Streptococcus bovis has been linked to a wide range of health problems. Ironically, this bacteria has been found in pre-packaged red meat.
Thus, as is always the case, when the media publishes shocking headlines, the public is going to take notice–and then often overreact. In this case, if a respected academic medical center study such as one out of the Cleveland Clinic links carnitine with heart disease, there is always going to be panic in the streets…and for a while, there was.
I have completed more than 300 endurance events over 30 years and have been an avid consumer of carnitine for much of that time. I credit carnitine as one of the keys to my longevity in a sport that is notoriously hard on the body, including the heart. In fact, without carnitine, the heart’s fuel supply will be compromised. And just like a car, your heart can’t run without fuel. That’s why there is plenty of evidence showing that carnitine improves heart health and does not harm it.
Profound Heart Health Benefits
According to www.lef.org, studies have shown that carnitine provides the following benefits associated with heart health:
- Improves blood lipid levels
- Lowers blood pressure
- Improves heart rate
- Increases blood flow to the heart
- Relieves symptoms of congestive heart failure
- Slows the progression of atherosclerosis
- Increases exercise tolerance in patients with heart and vascular diseases
The bottom line is that the cardio-protective benefits of carnitine are undeniable and profound. The science supports all the claims made by health professionals worldwide. That said, when media reports surface on an allegedly significant health finding, I urge people to take a closer look. These reports are often generated without all the facts. The body of carnitine science showing efficacy is just too strong to suggest otherwise.
Mark Becker is an Account Manager for Vivion, a raw materials distributor, based in Vernon, CA. He has worked as a natural products sales and marketing executive for 15 years. Mark has written more than 300 articles and has hosted or been a guest on more than 500 radio shows. He obtained a bachelor’s in journalism from Long Beach State University and did his master’s work in communications at Cal State Fullerton. For almost 30 years he has participated in numerous endurance events, including more than 150 triathlons of Olympic distance or longer, 100 marathons and numerous other events including ultramarathons and rough water swims from Alcatraz to the mainland. He has relied on a comprehensive dietary supplement and homeopathic regimen to support his athletic, professional and personal endeavors. Follow Mark Becker on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/marklbecker. Follow Mark on Twitter at https://twitter.com/becker_mark. For more information, access www.vivioninc.com or www.EnergyatLast.com.
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