Carnitine is produced in the liver and kidneys and biosynthesized by certain amino acids. It’s an abundant source in the body that can be found in most cells. The term carnitine is derived from the Latin word carnus which means flesh in English. This is because the nutrient can be naturally isolated from meat-based products. Carnitine is the general term used to describe other nutrients that include acetyl-L-carnitine, L-carnitine, and propionyl-L-carnitine.
The primary function of L-carnitine is to supply fatty acids to the entire body within body cells. These fatty acids are in turn used for energy production. Thus, one of the main benefits of carnitine includes strengthening tissues located in the skeletal and cardiac regions, which mostly uses fatty acids for an energy source. It also plays an essential role in eliminating toxic compounds and preventing it from accumulating.
In general, the human body contains sufficient carnitine to meet a person’s daily nutritional needs. The body naturally creates them and we can easily obtain them through certain foods. However, this is not the case for some people with a medical or genetic condition where the body produces insufficient amounts of carnitine.
Is Carnitine Good for the Heart?
Carnitine works with certain enzymes and supports the supply of fatty acids into the mitochondria. With the help of oxygen, the cell will then produce energy by burning both glucose and fatty acids. In addition to this function, it also helps flush out potentially harmful toxins from the body on its way out of the mitochondria.
For its energy source, the myocardium prefers to oxidize fatty acids. Thus, it makes carnitine more vital. Carnitine helps reduce the effects of ischemic, inhibit cardiac cell apoptosis, and regulate oxidative stress.
Carnitine is commonly found on meat-based products like red meat. It’s also widely sold in dietary supplement form that boosts energy levels, enhance workout performance, and promote weight loss. Carnitine is naturally produced by the body. However, some individuals with certain disorders may not be producing enough carnitine to sustain their daily recommended allowance.
Carnitine as a Treatment for Heart Disorders
Because of its positive effect on the heart, there are several studies suggesting that carnitine may also help prevent and treat certain types of heart disease. Examples of heart disorders are as follows:
Peripheral arterial disease
The peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is a circulatory disorder that narrows arteries and causes a decrease of blood flow to the limbs, arms, head, and stomach. Its cause is similar to coronary artery disease which involves atherosclerosis—plaque accumulation that eventually clogs the artery walls. When a person develops PAD, the artery blockage will cause pain concentrated on which artery it’s associated. For example, if the blocked artery is linked to the limb, the person will experience leg pain when walking or sometimes referred to as claudication.
Propionyl-L-carnitine, in particular, can improve symptoms of claudication caused by atherosclerosis. In one study, participants with claudication were given doses of propionyl-L-carnitine supplements for six months, while the other group of volunteers was given a placebo. After the specified month, researchers noted a significant improvement on both patients taking carnitine supplements and placebo. They observed that patients taking carnitine can walk at least three minutes on a treadmill. On the other hand, patients taking placebo improved walking time only by over a minute. Both groups also reported less pain and overall feelings of relief.
Angina or angina pectoris is a chest pain caused by insufficient blood flow to the heart (Ischemia). It’s also one of the symptoms of coronary artery disease. Other than chest pains, symptoms also include heaviness, tightness, pressure, and squeezing sensation concentrated in the chest area. Some patients also describe feelings of a heavy object placed on their chest. Angina is a common type of chest pain that may be difficult to conclusively diagnose. This is because some of its symptoms are similar to other disorders like for example chest pains caused by indigestion.
In one study, propionyl-L-carnitine is shown to improve blood vessel dilation that relieves chest pains. In addition, propionyl-L-carnitine and L-carnitine in supplementary form may also have the potential to enhance the function of skeletal and cardiac muscles during ischemia.
When someone hears the medical term heart failure, one might imagine that the heart is no longer working. However, this isn’t the case; it only means that the heart is not functioning properly. This medical condition is also termed as congestive heart failure. Its causes may come from various heart conditions like high blood pressure or coronary heart disease. These heart disorders weaken heart function, thus, rendering less supply of nutrients and oxygen to the body. In most cases, when heart failure develops, the condition is no longer reversible. Treatments, however, is shown to improve the condition and help a person live a fuller life.
Propionyl-L-carnitine may help improve the heart to function properly. Several studies made to test carnitine efficacy on heart failure suggest that it may support the heart to pump efficiently but shows insufficient evidence to reverse the condition. Carnitine may be useful as part of a therapeutic procedure in treating congestive heart failure, in addition to traditional pharmacological therapy.
A heart attack also called myocardial infarction happens when there is a blockage of blood flow leading to the heart. The blockage is caused by plaque build-up in the arteries often referred to as atherosclerosis. It will eventually form clotting when the plaque breaks down. The blockage of blood flow can damage or potentially cause permanent damage to the heart tissues if not given immediate medical attention. A heart attack is a serious medical condition but symptoms can be reduced significantly through modern treatments.
Some health professionals suggest that L-carnitine may improve health conditions after a heart attack. Their claim is based on their finding that is based on the controlled trial analysis. The study links carnitine to the decrease of deaths caused by heart attacks and the reduction of its reoccurrences. However, the study is inconclusive and further research has to be made. There are also ongoing debates among health practitioners whether carnitine increases the risk of heart attack or lessens its reoccurrences. In any case, it’s still best to contact your doctor if you feel any chest pains or suspects a heart condition.