Acetyl-L-carnitine, also popularly known as ALCAR, is an acetylated form of L-carnitine that plays a huge role in energy production. It is both a nutrient and a substrate for vital chemical reactions. In the body, ALCAR is naturally produced then broken down to carnitine, which is in turn used by cells to transport fatty acids to the mitochondria for the breakdown. Simply said, ALCAR is a type of nutrient that the body uses to turn fat into energy.
In the human body, you can find ALCAR in almost every cell including in the central nervous system. However, most of it is concentrated in muscle tissue including the heart. In the diet, red meats are the richest source- the redder, the better. You can also get it from plant sources like avocado and soybeans. (1)
ALCAR is not considered an essential nutrient since the body can produce it, but in supplementation, it improves the ability of specific tissues to produce energy. In its supplement form, ALCAR is primarily taken for boosting metabolism, improving memory, cognitive ability and enhancing brain neuroplasticity.
There is a lot of confusion when it comes to ALCAR and L-Carnitine. They both fall into the same generic term, carnitine, and thus the reason why you may quickly get confused. Well, both of them are derived from an amino acid and have a very close chemical design. However, there is a big difference in how each one of them works.
ALCAR is a modified version of the natural form of L-Carnitine and thus has a slightly different structure. Think of it as L-carnitine with an acetyl group attached to it. That structure makes it more bioavailable- it is absorbed better, and can even cross the brain barrier, something that L-Carnitine cannot do. So, ALCAR is far more popular for its mental health benefits.
ALCAR has remarkable cognitive effects and is actually one of the nootropic supplement that has been extensively studied. One of the cognitive effects is protection against age-related and toxin-mediated degeneration. (2) As a potent antioxidant, ALCAR helps prevent and repair the damage to brain cells caused by free radicals.
Free radicals cause damage to neurons by taking electrons to balance themselves. The body can handle a small number of free radicals, but our bodies are exposed to too much of them- both from the external environment and from the internal waste products. One form of waste product that really causes brain damage is lipofuscin. (3) When lipofuscin builds up on the skin, it shows as aging brown spots, but in the brain, it causes decline of the functioning of the brain cells and manifests as memory loss along with other complications.
When the oxidative damage builds up, it can steal away a person’s cognitive ability and eventually decline it to a state where one cannot provide self-care. (4) This excessive oxidation has been liked to diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cancer and heart disease. ALCAR helps get rid of that oxidative damage and waste product build-up, resulting in healthier brain cells and a slowed aging process.
Users also experience additional benefits of memory enhancement, increased attention span, higher focus and improved mental clarity. How exactly does this happen? When ALCAR is ingested, whether in diet or supplement form, it is absorbed into the bloodstream from the intestinal tract where it is circulated to the body tissues, including the central nervous system.
Once in the CNS, it exerts other cognitive actions by acting as a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is the powerful brain chemical that influences some cognitive processes like memory, learning, concentration, and focus. In the brain, it is first converted to L-Carnitine then the acetylated component breaks off to bind with coenzyme A to create Acetyl-COA. It then combines with choline and catabolized to acetylcholine. This means that taking your ALCAR with choline supplements even makes it work better.
As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, ALCAR serves an essential role in burning fat for energy. It shuttles fatty acids across the wall of mitochondria, where they are converted into energy. On its way back from the mitochondria after ferrying fatty acids, it brings back with it acetyl groups and small fragments that are byproducts of fatty acid oxidation. In some degree, ALCAR also helps in burning of carbohydrates since enzymes that metabolize fat are always in communication with those that metabolize glucose. (5)
When the body burns fats at a rate higher than glucose, it increases the fat burning potential. The result is a well-sculpted body with quality lean mass gain. ALCAR supplements are thus effective for both bodybuilders and those seeking to lose fat. When compared to the energizing effects of caffeine, ALCAR is superior as it shifts the body to a state of high energy production along with fat busting.
Another interesting thing about ALCAR is that when it prompts the body to use fat as the primary source of the primary source of energy, it preserves and excludes muscle tissue (source of glycogen) as a principal source. (6)
ALCAR is not short on the effects that it has on the brain. Not only does it protect brain cells but it also promotes neurological function by altering noradrenaline, serotonin and dopamine content. These neurotransmitters rely on the role of neuroreceptors to transmit their messages through the nervous system. Science has shown that brain problems are not so much the lack of these neurotransmitters but the synaptic pathways that carry them in the first place.
The good thing about the brain is that it has some level of plasticity, which helps it to regrow and regenerate these synaptic pathways. ALCAR helps in the regeneration and prevention of damage of the existing pathways and receptors through stimulating a brain growth factor known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BNDF). (7) The result is propping up of more neurotransmitters and a pathway that is ready for the intercellular communication. Think of it as a fertilizer or growth stimulant that stimulates new nerve connections.
Chronic stress response to stress causes a wide range of health problems from lowered immunity, increased inflammation, sleep disturbances, lack of sensitivity to neurotransmitters to burnouts. It simply slows you down and negatively affects your performance, no matter the effort that you invest. This stress may be caused by environmental factors, day to day psychological issues and even exercise.
In the face of stress, ALCAR helps the body respond in an efficient manner. First, it acts as a buffer against oxidative stress, enabling nerves to tolerate higher levels of stress. Second, ALCAR has a regulatory effect on the integrity of the nerve coating (which is known as myelin sheath), helping improve brain communication in stress response. Thirdly, ALCAR has been shown to stimulate the production of new nerve cells, directly improving depressive mood.
The most direct benefit of ALCAR to dealing with unavoidable stress is that it increases the output of dopamine and serotonin. (8) These two powerful neurotransmitters are critical for reinforcing behaviors that make you feel good. Moreover, if the brain does not have adequate levels of dopamine, your voluntary movements may become uncoordinated or delayed, such as in Parkinson’s disease. Serotonin is another relaxation-promoting neurotransmitter that controls your sleep, appetite, and sexual behavior. (9)
Take mitochondria as the parts of the cell that fundamental processes of ATP metabolism and calcium homeostasis take place. Therefore, without healthy mitochondria, we would not have sufficient energy for exercises and our muscles would not be as coordinated as they ought to be. In a study (10) published in the Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, the researchers noted that cells containing impaired mitochondria are the least metabolically active and had a significant leakage of oxidants, which causes more damage not only to mitochondria but also other cells.
You may be wondering whether it is possible for a certain part of a cell to be damaged. Yes, mitochondria get damaged partly due to their cause, oxidative damage, as a result of aging and other heterogenetic factors. As an athlete, oxidative damage and increased lipid unsaturation in the mitochondria membranes highly contribute to mitochondrial dysfunction.
With mitochondria playing such a pivotal role in sports performance and vitality, protecting its function is a worthwhile pursuit. ALCAR optimizes mitochondrial function by acting as a shuttle that prevents deprivation of metabolites that are needed for beta-oxidation, a critical step in the conversion of fatty acids into ATP. It also increases cellular respiration, promotes oxygen consumption and as an antioxidant, neutralizes oxidative damage.
As mentioned over and over, ALCAR plays a vital role in lipid oxidation by mediating translocation of fatty acids into mitochondria. In fact, the highest natural concentrations of ALCAR are in the muscle tissue, the primary site for beta-oxidation of fats. During endurance exercises, oxidation of fatty acids spares use of muscle glycogen and delays onset of fatigue. This is where ALCAR comes in to enhance high-impact exercise performance.
Carnitine supplementation alters muscle metabolism during exercise in two critical ways- by enhancing oxidation and by reducing glycogen utilization while increasing lipolysis. (11) The result is increased work output and low accumulation of lactate levels during high-intensity exercises.
Another surprising effect to the muscles is that it reduces the acute response of several markers of biochemical stress after resistance exercises. (12) During intense training, oxygen is limited, and the byproducts of fat oxidation and lactate accumulate. By increasing cellular respiration, ALCAR limits the accumulation of those substances by promoting their effective removal. (13)
The standard dose of ALCAR is between 500 and 2000mg (14). Recommendations for those starting out is 250-500mg per day either taken as a single dose or split into smaller doses, two to three times per day. From that point, one can then work the doses up for maximum benefits. For peak daytime brain functioning, the supplement is best taken in the morning. For workouts, it can either be a pre or post-workout supplement. If taken late at night, it can cause sleep disturbances.
ALCAR can be taken on an empty stomach although if one is experiencing gastrointestinal discomfort, it can be taken with food. However, one of the fantastic things about ALCAR is that being a nutrient synthesized by the body, it is harmless for almost everybody. If there are any side effects, they are minor and diminish quickly with continued use. Abdominal discomfort is the most common just like in most other supplements. Other side effects can include slight headaches and sleep disturbance.
Using the right dose alongside other brain enhancers can go a long way in maximizing your results. Stacking ALCAR with alpha lipoic acid synergistically boosts the effects of each. When paired, they substantially boost mitochondria function and vascular system wellbeing. They produce a higher metabolic rate at the cellular level, resulting in more significant fat furnacing potential. (15)
Since ALCAR is naturally produced in the body, there is no much extensive history around it. Carnitine the generic name is derived from the Latin word Carnus, which means flesh. This is because it was first isolated from meat in 1905. (16) In 1927, the correct structure of carnitine was proposed, but it is later that the structure of other esters was agreed upon. In later years, scientists were able to clearly define the role of ALCAR in stimulation of long-chain fatty acid oxidation by mitochondria.
In 1980, ALCAR was approved as a medication to treat both neurological and cardiovascular diseases, by the European medical community. However, it was not until 1994 that it could be legally purchased in the United States. Since then, many scientific studies have been conducted both on animals and humans, to prove its effectiveness. Most of these studies have yielded outstanding positive results.
From burning fat to boosting brain energy levels, ALCAR has received plenty of attention. Its ability to help athletes build lean mass when burning fat has put almost every fitness fanatic on the edge of their seats.
So, why the sizzle? Here is a quick summary of it all.
Acetyl-l-Carnitine shortened as ALCAR is a form of l-carnitine that is acetylated.The body can naturally produce ALCAR and can be obtained in diet, but supplementing is a great way to boost cognitive and physical healthIt is famed for its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier where it exerts it nootropic benefits.ALCAR also plays a crucial role in the production of energy by transporting fatty acids into mitochondriaIncreases fat oxidation, delaying fatigue in athletes and sparing glycogen utilizationIncreases cellular respiration and lowers accumulation of lactic acid, and reduces recovery time after exercise.Can be used for mental health and wellness, improving the body’s stress response, boosting mood and prevention of age-related memory lossWhen compared to l-carnitine, ALCAR has greater bioavailabilityDoses between 500 and 2000mg are generally safe, though for starters, 250 to 500mg is generally recommended.When combined with Alpha Lipoic Acid, boosts nootropic and mitochondrial optimization benefits.ALCAR is well tolerated with no toxic effects and minimal side effects such as mild gastrointestinal upsets, headache, and sleep alterations