|L-Carnitine and Cardiovascular Wellness|
Let's face it - to stay alive our hearts need to beat 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. When you think about it, maintaining a healthy heart and cardiovascular system is a life-long endeavor for all of us. Ideally, the quest for cardiovascular health should include eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and protecting our hearts with a variety of nutritional supplements. Among the most important of the supplements for maintaining a healthy heart and cardiovascular system is L-carnitine. Although consumers these days are perhaps more familiar with L-carnitine as a safe and effective dietary supplement for enhancing exercise performance and managing weight, the scientific evidence which support the beneficial role of L-carnitine in cardiovascular well-being is so compelling that L-carnitine was originally used as a prescription drug for the heart.
L-carnitine is a naturally occurring vitamin like nutrient that plays an essential role in fat metabolism and energy production. This nutrient is naturally produced and stored within our bodies, particularly in the skeletal and heart muscle and is also a component of our diets, mainly in foods of animal origin. The metabolic function of L-carnitine is to transport fatty acids into the mitochondria, the energy producing organelles within our cells. Inside the mitochondria, the fatty acids are burned and cellular energy is produced.
Since L-carnitine is an essential component of the fat-burning process, it is a critical nutrient for the heart, because cardiac muscle obtains an amazing 70 percent of all its energy requirements from the burning of fatty acids. Thus, it is not surprising that high concentration of L-carnitine are found in cardiac muscle and that L-carnitine is considered to be vital for the proper mechanical functioning of the heart.
In addition to ensuring that the heart is supplied with the energy it requires to function, there is an enormous amount of sound clinical evidence which indicates that L-carnitine supplementation may be helpful in treating and managing various cardiovascular conditions. A good example is heart failure, the condition which occurs when the heart's pumping ability is reduced to such a level that the tissues of the body have a lower than normal blood supply. Lower levels of myocardial L-carnitine are found in heart failure patients, and it has been proposed by a number of scientists that L-carnitine therapy may be valuable in the management of these subjects. Studies also indicate that L-carnitine is useful in the treatment of myocardial ischemia (a reduction in blood flow to the heart which ultimately can lead to a heart attack), angina pectoris (the chest pain associated with myocardial ischemia) and cardiac arrhythmias (abnormalities in the heart rhythm). In addition, clinical studies have shown that supplemental L-cartinine can actually increase the exercise tolerance of angina sufferers. There is also promising research suggesting that L-carnitine may have a cholesterol-lowering ability, thereby indicating that it may have a key role to play in the prevention of cardiovascular disease.
Clearly, the clinical research indicates that the beneficial effects of L-carnitine are conferred at levels above those normally obtained through endogenous synthesis and food intake and consequently, external supplementation is recommended to those who actively seek optimal heart health.
For the maintenance of a healthy heart, the consensus on appropriate dosage of L-carnitine lies in the region of 2 g daily.
Paula Gaynor, Ph.D. is the manager of scientific affairs and market development/L-carnitine for Lonza Inc. She holds a bachelor's degree in nutrition and a doctorate in food science from University College Cork, Ireland.