What Is Carnosine? A Potential Antioxidant for Disease Prevention and Beyond

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What Is Carnosine? A Potential Antioxidant for Disease Prevention and Beyond

Carnosine - Dr. Axe

Carnosine is a natural antioxidant made up of two amino acids. One of its important functions is acting as a free radical scavenger. In addition to its impressive antioxidant properties, it’s also said to serve as a “physiological buffer” that plays a key role in proper enzyme and calcium regulation.

Since carnosine plays such an important role in the human body, not getting it in your diet, or not getting enough, can negatively affect bodily functions. The good news is you can get carnosine in your diet from natural foods. Most fish, such as salmon, are healthy food sources. A food that is a top source of carnosine is beef (and opting for the grass-fed version will provide even more health benefits than the conventional version).

A deficiency in carnosine is not common, but people on low-protein diets are more likely to be deficient. Vegetarians and vegans can also struggle with getting enough in their diets.

What Is Carnosine?

In the human body, concentrations of carnosine are greatest in muscle tissue. What is muscle carnosine? Since it is found in such high concentrations in the muscles, it’s sometimes referred to as muscle carnosine, but it can also be found in brain tissue, the heart and many other parts of the body.

Carnosine, also known by many other names including L-carnosine and n-acetyl-carnosine, is considered a dipeptide. What’s a dipeptide? A simple dipeptide definition: an organic compound derived from two amino acids. Carnosine is synthesized in skeletal muscle from the amino acids histidine and beta-alanine. So the body makes carnosine, and it can also be obtained through the diet.

“L-carnosine” and “carnosine” can just be two different names for the same compound, but carnosine can come in a few forms, and the “L” in front denotes that it is the form that can be readily used by the body’s cells.

Potential carnosine benefits include the prevention and treatment of diabetic complications such as nerve damage, kidney problems and eye disorders like cataracts. Another one of the top potential L-carnosine benefits is a reduction in the signs of aging. In fact, it’s sometimes referred to as the “longevity molecule.” People are also known to use it to boost stamina and muscle strength. However, there is limited scientific evidence to back up these uses. It is key to the correct function and development of the muscles, heart, liver, kidneys, brain and many other organs.

If you’re comparing carnosine vs carnitine, both come primarily from meat. However, they play different roles in the body. Carnitine comes from an amino acid and is important for energy production. It transports long-chain fatty acids into the mitochondria so they can be used to produce energy in the body. According to the National Institutes of Health, “Healthy children and adults do not need to consume carnitine from food or supplements, as the liver and kidneys produce sufficient amounts from the amino acids lysine and methionine to meet daily needs.”

If you’re comparing beta alanine vs carnosine, beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that is a precursor to carnosine formation. Beta-alanine supplements have been shown to raise carnosine concentrations in skeletal muscle by 20 percent to 80 percent. According to a review published in 2010, “Supplementation with beta-alanine has been shown to increase muscle carnosine content and therefore total muscle buffer capacity, with the potential to elicit improvements in physical performance during high-intensity exercise.”

Potential Carnosine Benefits

So far, some research to date suggests that L-carnosine may be helpful for the following health concerns:

1. Chronic Diseases like Diabetes

According to a scientific article published in 2017, “Carnosine, an over-the-counter food supplement, has a promising potential for the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases through its anti-inflammatory, antiglycation, antioxidative and chelating effects.”

A pilot double-blind randomized clinical trial published in 2016 evaluated the effects of supplementation on 30 nondiabetic individuals who were either overweight or obese. Half of the subjects took two grams of carnosine daily, and the other half took a placebo for a 12-week period. The results were positive; subjects who took carnosine had improved insulin resistance and lower glucose levels compared to placebo takers. Overall, the researchers concluded, “carnosine supplementation may be an effective strategy for prevention of type 2 diabetes.”

2. Alzheimer’s Disease

More clinical studies are still needed, but so far animal and lab studies are pointing toward carnosine’s ability to decrease the buildup of amyloid beta, which is the main component of the plaque found in the brains of Alzheimer patients.

In addition to some animal studies with positive results, a double-blind randomized controlled clinical trial found that healthy elderly people who took a supplement containing carnosine as well as anserine experienced an improvement in their age-related decline in brain blood flow (which occurs in Alzheimer’s disease) after three months of supplementation. The 39 healthy elderly volunteers (between the ages of 60–78 years old) also saw improvements in memory, specifically verbal episodic memory.

3. Cataracts

Is it possible carnosine eye drops may be able to help cataracts? A randomized, placebo-controlled study had 26 patients (41 eyes) use topical one percent n-acetylcarnosine (NAC) eyedrops twice daily while the 13 patients (21 eyes) in the control group received placebo eyedrops. There were also 10 patients (14 eyes) who did not receive any eyedrops at all.

After six months, 90 percent of the eyes treated with NAC eyedrops experienced a 7 to 100 percent improvement in best corrected visual acuity (or best distance vision with eyeglasses or contact lenses), and 88.9 percent of the group demonstrated a 27 to 100 percent improvement in glare sensitivity.

However, recent scientific reviews believe that “there is currently no convincing evidence that NAC reverses cataract, nor prevents progression of cataract” and that more high-quality studies are needed to validate the use of carnosine eye drops for cataracts.

4. Gastrointestinal Disorders

Polaprezinc is an orally bioavailable chelate composed of zinc and L-carnosine that is said to have potential gastroprotective, antioxidant, anti-ulcer and anti-inflammatory abilities. Oral supplementation with polaprezinc has been shown to increase the expression of a number of beneficial antioxidant enzymes, including superoxide dismutase, heme oxygenas, glutathione S-transferase, glutathione peroxidase and peroxidredoxin-1 in the gastric mucosa, which protect cells against reactive oxygen species.

Studies are ongoing, but so far results have been mixed when it comes to zinc caronsine for GERD with one 2016 study showing no difference between taking zinc L-carnosine and a placebo. Again, more studies are needed but some research does point toward the helpful use of zinc carnosine for leaky gutH. pylori and gastric ulcers.

5. Aging

If you read online reviews, you will likely see people claiming their skin looks more youthful after taking this supplement. Is that possible? L-carnosine skin-boosting effects may occur due to this chemical compound’s anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and free radical scavenging properties, which help to protect DNA cells and hence boost skin health.

Carnosine Side Effects

L-carnosine is generally considered safe when taken by mouth for short periods of time, or when used by adults on the skin; however, there can be rare side effects, including rash, itchiness, dry mouth, changes in appetite, feelings of tiredness or vivid dreams.

Rare but severe possible zinc carnosine side effects include decreased white blood cells, disorder of the digestive system and sideroblastic anemia. Less severe side effects may include stomach cramps, indigestion and nausea.

Check with your doctor before taking any type of carnosine supplement if you are pregnant, breast-feeding, have a medical condition or are currently taking medication. It’s typically not advised for pregnant or breast-feeding women to take this supplement.

Since it can lower blood pressure, it’s not recommended for people with low blood pressure or people already taking medications to reduce blood pressure.

Supplement & Dosage Recommendations

What’s the best carnosine dosage? Recommendations range from 50 to 1,000 milligrams a day. However, there are currently no standard recommendations since definite medical benefits and therapeutic dosages are yet to be proven.

If you decide to supplement, the best dosage for you will depend on a number of factors including your health status and the reason for supplementation. Check with your healthcare provider on the best dosage and always stick with a recommended dosage to avoid unwanted side effects.

Unless you have an extremely low-protein diet, supplementation is often not warranted since the carnosine in food sources, such as beef, is so bioavailable. When the proper protein sources are consumed, bodily levels of carnosine have been shown to rise quickly (within a few hours).

Read product labels carefully, but it’s usually advised that carnosine can be taken with or without food. However, you should never take supplements containing zinc on an empty stomach.

The effectiveness of oral supplementation is questionable since most carnosine absorbed from the gut is destroyed in the bloodstream by enzymes called carnosinases. This is another big reason why it’s important to check with your healthcare provider before supplementing.

Where to Find & How to Use It

You can find supplements online and in health stores. If you’re not interested in taking a supplement, but want to boost your intake, there are several food sources.

Carnosine foods include meat, fish and poultry. Try to opt for the healthiest versions of each, such as grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish and organic chicken or turkey.

Vegan-friendly options include white mushrooms, asparagus, peas, edamame and soybeans.

Precautions & Drug Interactions

Carnosinemia is carnosine deficiency caused by a very rare inherited metabolic disorder. Symptoms of this disorder often start during infancy and can include drowsiness, seizures that may be accompanied by involuntary jerking muscle movements of the arms, legs or head (myoclonic seizures), and intellectual disability.

Since L-carnosine can reduce blood pressure, it’s typically not recommended to take it along with antihypertensive drugs (medications for high blood pressure).

If you supplement with L-carnosine along with medications used for lowering high blood pressure, you may cause your blood pressure to drop dangerously low. Medications for high blood pressure include verapamil (Calan, Isoptin, Verelan), felodipine (Plendil), diltiazem (Cardizem), isradipine (DynaCirc), amlodipine (Norvasc) and nifedipine (Adalat, Procardia).

Final Thoughts

  • Carnosine is produced by the body so it occurs naturally in humans as well as animals and is created by the chemical combination of two amino acids, beta-alanine and histidine.
  • Most scientific research has been in vitro and in animal models, with only a few small clinical studies, so potential human benefits are yet to be clearly established.
  • Carnosine can be obtained from food. Grass-fed, pasture-raised meat is the best way to get this antioxidant in your diet.
  • There is currently not enough scientific information to determine an appropriate range of doses, so check with your healthcare provider before taking this supplement, especially if you are currently being treated for a medical condition or are taking other medications.

Read Next: L-Serine: An Amino Acids that’s Critical for Brain Health

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