Carnitine and Depression: a missing piece to the puzzle? – LivLong

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Carnitine and Depression: a missing piece to the puzzle?

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Depression is a disease that affects over 300 million people across the globe. The root cause of depression is not fully understood, and therefore viable treatment options that are safe and effective are not widely available. When it comes to mental health- every person will respond differently and personalized options are ideal. Carnitine is being looked at as one biomarker for depression, and correcting plasma levels of Acetyl-L Carnitine is showing promising results for certain individuals. 


Antidepressants are typically prescribed to increase levels of the happiness hormone, serotonin, which was long believed to be the deficiency that led to depression. Although, we now know that serotonin is only a fraction of the equation. Approximately two thirds of individuals with major depressive disorder don't enter full remission from antidepressants and 30% of people are unresponsive altogether. 


This alongside the unfavorable side effects of antidepressants has sparked a movement to understand the mechanisms underlying depression in order to find safe and effective treatment options. 


In light of recent awareness and advocating for mental health, we’re beginning to understand the physiological mechanisms that underlie depression. While still a poorly understood pathology, it’s now accepted that the root of depression lies not in psychology but biology. 


As we enter a time where conventional and alternative practices are merging, an era of personalized medicine based on the unique biochemical profile of each person is emerging. The benefit of this shift is perhaps best seen in the mental health sphere. The physiology of depression is becoming clearer, and a new biomarker,

Lypo-Spheric® Acetyl-L Carnitine (ALCAR) could be part of the answer we’ve been searching for. 

Carnitine Levels as Biomarker Depression 

Acetyl-L Carnitine is an amino acid that serves several key functions in the body. One of these functions is ensuring the hippocampus, an important center in the brain, functions properly.


Often in depression, functions of the hippocampus are compromised. This has led researchers to investigate ALCAR in the pathogenesis of depression due to its impact on this area of the brain.


Researchers began to notice that mice with depression had low levels of carnitine. What’s even more valuable is that supplementation with Acetyl-L Carnitine was able to reverse symptoms on average, in 2-3 days. To put this in perspective, conventional antidepressants can take up to 3 weeks to take effect. 


Similar results have been seen in human studies. One study, that had 116 participants found that patients diagnosed with major depressive disorder had a significant deficiency in Acetyl-L Carnitine compared to their healthy counterparts. Like the animal studies, they found Acetyl-L Carnitine reversed symptoms of depression through epigenetic modifications


Another study assessed Acetyl-L Carnitine levels in males and had participants complete a self-rated depression assessment. They found lower levels of carnitine correlated to more severe depression. Upon supplementation for three months, all self-reported depression symptoms decreased. 



Mechanisms of Action

The research on carnitine is in the early stages but the mechanisms through which carnitine works to alleviate depression is relatively understood. 


Carnitine is known as an epigenetic nutrient, meaning it can alter the expression of certain genes in a positive manner. The evidence shows that carnitine can modify genes involved in depression in the same manner as antidepressants- potentially long term and without the side effects. 


Some antidepressants have the ability to modify neurotransmitters other than serotonin, such as glutamate. Carnitine upregulates a gene that increases receptors for this molecule, which is correlated to decreased depressive symptoms. 


Scientists have found that low plasma levels of carnitine are associated with lower levels of a protein called BDNF. BDNF levels are characteristically low in patients with depression. Many antidepressants work to increase levels of BDNF. Like antidepressants, when carnitine is supplemented, BDNF levels begin to normalize


In major depressive disorder, a lack of neuroplasticity is often seen. Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to form new connections between neurons and establish new patterns. ALCAR has been shown to increase the expression of genes related to neuroplasticity.


We can see that the carnitine has several mechanisms of action, indicating its importance in neural and mental health. 


Putting it Altogether 

Depression is a complex pathology. Acetyl-L Carnitine is showing promise as a safe and effective therapeutic option for those who suffer from depression.  The research is too new to know if it will work for everyone, but it’s another piece of the mental health puzzle- and a step in the right direction. 


This is not intended to be medical advice, any changes to medication or treatment programs should always be done through your doctor. 


Author: Lisa Kowalyk, CNP, B.kin


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