Carnitine -- also known as L-carnitine -- is a compound that is created in the body from amino acids. Amino acids are components of protein.
It occurs naturally in animals, plants and microorganisms. Generally, plants contain small amounts of carnitine compared to animals, where especially high levels may be found in heart and skeletal muscle.
The main function of L-carnitine is to help the body turn fat into energy.
Carnitine is a "vitamin-like" molecule that helps to transport long-chain fatty acids from outside the mitochondria (the energy powerhouse of the cell) to inside the mitochondria, a process that is vital to energy production.
L-carnitine is also available as a nutritional supplement. Medical research suggests that L-carnitine could be beneficial for some of the symptoms that PCOS women tend to have.
Will L-Carnitine Prevent Hair Loss, or Improve Hair Growth?
Male-pattern hair loss of scalp hair is a serious concern for some women with PCOS. A primary reason for hair loss is an excess of male hormones called androgens. This type of hair loss is referred to as androgenic alopecia.
In a recent experiment with human hair at the University of Lubeck in Germany, L-carnitine was shown to promote hair growth.(1) Exposure to L-carnitine stimulated hair shaft elongation and reduced hair cell death.
The authors of this study conclude, "Our findings suggest that L-carnitine stimulates human scalp hair growth by up regulation of proliferation and down regulation of apoptosis in follicular keratinocytes in vitro. They further encourage one to explore topical and nutraceutical administration of l-carnitine as a well-tolerated, relatively safe adjuvant treatment in the management of androgenetic alopecia and other forms of hair loss.
L-Carnitine Helps You Burn Fat
Another issue faced by PCOS women is difficulty in getting rid of fat weight.
L-carnitine is necessary to transport fat into the fat-burning compartment of your cells. Thus, people refer to it as a "fat burning" nutrient. Of course, the burned fat is transformed into energy that is used to power your body.
Where does fat get burned? In your muscle cells. Muscle cells depend on adequate levels of carnitine to efficiently do their job. (2) Carnitine also contributes to better overall fat regulation and reduces insulin resistance problems. (3)
For these reasons, L-carnitine can be found in weight loss or physical performance enhancement formulas.
L-Carnitine and Diabetes
Women with polycystic ovarian syndrome have a very significant increased risk of developing diabetes as well as heart disease.
L-carnitine appears to be beneficial for reducing the impact of diabetes and "Syndrome X" (metabolic syndrome). These disorders have a lot of similarities with PCOS and are associated with insulin resistance and problems with handling blood sugar.
Studies of lab animals with diabetes or metabolic syndrome have shown that L-carnitine reduces diabetic tendencies and improves ability to deal with blood sugar fluctuations (4,5)
L-carnitine also reduces a very undesirable metabolic process called "glycation".(6) Glycation is the inappropriate combining of a sugar and a protein in your body, resulting in malfunction of your cells.
L-Carnitine and Your Cardiovascular System
It's well known that women with polycystic ovary syndrome have multiple cardiovascular risk factors and an increased prevalence of arterial dysfunction.
For example, we recently reported that these women tend to have hardening of the arteries
Another recent study has shown that they also have a condition called "endothelial dysfunction
Endothelial dysfunction means that the cells in your artery walls are not working properly. This condition is an "early warning" sign of future, more serious cardiovascular problems such as atherosclerosis.
A report from the University of Indiana School of Medicine indicates that L-carnitine can reduce endothelial dysfunction in some people, especially if they have a weight problem.(8)
The authors of this study concluded: "Our data suggest that increasing L-carnitine levels may improve FFA-induced and obesity-associated endothelial dysfunction. This improved endothelial function may delay or prevent the development of excess cardiovascular disease."
Your heart is highly dependent on carnitine. L-carnitine has been used for treating angina (chest pain), arrhythmia (irregular heartbeats), congestive heart failure, ischemia (lack of oxygen for heart tissue) and speeding recovery after a heart attack.
How Can I Increase My Levels of Carnitine?
The highest concentrations of carnitine are found in red meat and dairy products. Lesser amounts are found in plant foods.
Carnitine is also manufactured in the body from lysine (an essential amino acid) in the presence of methionine (an essential amino acid), vitamin C, vitamin B-6, niacin and iron.
Is L-Carnitine Supplementation Safe -- and How Much Should I Take?
L-carnitine is safe with no significant side effects reported in human studies.
Avoid the D-form of carnitine, which interferes with the natural L-form, which can result in carnitine deficiency in heart and skeletal muscle, and in exercise intolerance in patients with chest pain.
The maximum safe dosage has not been established for pregnant or nursing women, young children or people with severe kidney or liver disease. People on hemodialysis should not use carnitine unless prescribed by their doctor.
There are no known adverse interactions with any drug or nutrient. Anti-seizure medications may increase carnitine needs.
Note about Pregnancy and Infant Nutrition: The placenta actively transports carnitine to the fetus, where the fetus's ability to synthesize carnitine is not fully developed. Pre-term infants may benefit in weight gain and growth from extra carnitine (9,10). However, pregnant women tend to be low in serum carnitine. Carnitine in breast milk is more "bioavailable" to an infant than in infant formulas. Infants have a limited ability to fully create their own carnitine, so carnitine adequacy is something to think about if you are contemplating a pregnancy or have a baby. If you have any questions about carnitine adequacy, consult with your doctor.
L-carnitine needs vary greatly with the individual. Some clinicians suggest a dosage of 500-1000 mg three times daily or as directed by your healthcare professional.
L-carnitine-L-tartrate promotes human hair growth in vitro – Source: Experimental Dermatology, Nov 2007
by K Foitzik, et al. ImmuneSupport.com
[Note: L-carnitine supports the transport of fatty acid “fuel” into the cells’ energy-producing mitochondria.]
The trimethylated amino acid l-carnitine plays a key role in the intramitochondrial transport of fatty acids for beta-oxidation and thus serves important functions in energy metabolism.
Here, we have tested the hypothesis that l-carnitine, a frequently employed dietary supplement, may also stimulate hair growth by increasing energy supply to the massively proliferating and energy-consuming anagen hair matrix.
Hair follicles (HFs) in the anagen VI stage of the hair cycle were cultured in the presence of 0.5-50 microm of l-carnitine-l-tartrate (CT) for 9 days. At day 9, HFs treated with 5 microm or 0.5 microm of CT showed a moderate, but significant stimulation of hair shaft elongation compared with vehicle-treated controls (P < 0.05). Also, CT prolonged the duration of anagen VI, down regulated apoptosis (as measured by TUNEL assay) and up regulated proliferation (as measured by Ki67 immunohistology) of hair matrix keratinocytes (P < 0.5). By immunohistology, intrafollicular immunoreactivity for TGFbeta2, a key catagen-promoting growth factor, in the dermal papilla and TGF-beta II receptor protein in the outer root sheath and dermal papilla was down regulated.
As shown by caspase activity assay, caspase 3 and 7, which are known to initiate apoptosis, are down regulated at day 2 and day 4 after treatment of HFs with CT compared with vehicle-treated control indicating that CT has an immediate protective effect on HFs to undergo programmed cell death.
Our findings suggest that l-carnitine stimulates human scalp hair growth by up regulation of proliferation and down regulation of apoptosis in follicular keratinocytes in vitro.
They further encourage one to explore topical and nutraceutical administration of l-carnitine as a well-tolerated, relatively safe adjuvant treatment in the management of androgenetic alopecia and other forms of hair loss.
Source: Experimental Dermatology. 2007 Nov;16(11):936-45. PMID: 17927577, by Foitzik K, Hoting E, Förster T, Pertile P, Paus R. Department of Dermatology, University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf, University of Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany. [E-mail: email@example.com