Earlier this spring, L-carnitine made headlines around the world. That’s because researchers from the Cleveland Clinic and University of Pennsylvania published a report suggesting a link between L-carnitine and hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis).
Nearly every news report featured photos of red meat with headlines proclaiming the saturated fat in red meat is innocent—and the L-carnitine in red meat is causing heart attacks. The study said the culprit is trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), a waste product produced by certain intestinal bacteria as a result of exposure to L-carnitine and a long-term diet high in red meat. Vegetarians and vegans have much lower levels of TMAO and the carnitine-converting class of bacteria.
As you may remember, I wrote a blog about that study urging you not to be swayed by this one piece of research—but to wait for more evidence to either confirm or replicate the findings.
The Benefits of L-Carinitine
Shortly after that, another L-carnitine study appeared in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Researchers reviewed 13 controlled trials and concluded that benefits of L-carnitine supplementation include reductions in all causes of mortality, angina symptoms and ventricular arrhythmias following a heart attack. The study acknowledged L-carnitine’s abilitytoin limit infarct size, stabilize heart cell membranes and improve compromised cellular energy metabolism.
This study made good sense to me. It confirmed my own clinical findings and reminded me of an Italian study I reported on in 2007, which showed that centenarians who supplemented with L-carnitine had significant improvements in energy, muscle mass and mental function—plus, less fatigue and fat mass.
To me, the benefits of L-carnitine are still clear. If anything from that first study turns out to be confirmed, I believe it will link gut bacteria with the overconsumption of what I call “junk” red meat—meaning meat that contains unnatural hormones, insecticides, and pesticides.
So, what’s the bottom line? Eating red meat two or three times a week is fine, but make it organic free-range lamb, beef or bison. Continue taking your L-carnitine supplement to get its benefits. It’s the only molecule in our cells with the ability to move fatty acids into the mitochondria where it’s used for energy. Equally important, L-carnitine carries the waste generated by ATP metabolism out of the mitochondria.
While you’re at it, consider adding a good probiotic supplement to your routine as well. Probiotics include familiar beneficial bacteria, such as acidophilus and bifida, strains that populate your intestines and help support a beneficial bacterial balance. If future research indicates that TMAO may be a player in atherosclerosis, then it just makes sense to take a probiotic. A clinical 2008 study in the animal model demonstrated that production of TMAO can be altered by probiotic administration. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: probiotics should be an integral part of anyone's foundational supplement program.
Now it’s your turn: What do you think about this research on the effects and benefits of L-carnitine?
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Martin FP, et al. Probiotic modulation of symbiotic gut microbial-host metabolic interactions in a humanized microbiome mouse model. Mol Syst Biol. 2008;4:157.