The Importance of Carnosine
Carnosine is an important dipeptide, or small protein, with some incredible healing properties. It is found in relatively high concentrations in several body tissues—most notably in brain, nerve tissue, heart muscles and skeletal muscle. Discovered in Russia over a hundred years ago it has long been used by athletes to improve their performance, since carnosine enables the heart muscle to contract more efficiently through enhancement of calcium response in heart cells. Carnosine however has many other exciting properties. It supports healthy cell function in two ways – through inhibiting glycalation and carbonylation (a junk coating around proteins similar to “engine buildup”) and by protecting against free radical damage as an antioxidant. Carnosine has also been called a longevity nutrient since laboratory studies on tissues indicate that it can delay old age and promote cellular rejuvenation in cultured human fibroblasts, returning old cells to return to 90 percent of their original state. It also has neuroprotective properties and appears quite useful for autism, seizures and Alzheimer’s.
Carnosine has been shown to be useful in children with autism for improving speech, socialization and behavior. In a double-blind placebo controlled study with carnosine children were randomly placed on either active carnosine or placebo. Participants in the clinical trial who were given L-Carnosine experienced significant improvements compared to those taking a placebo in the following areas: receptive and expressive language, auditory processing socialization, awareness of surroundings and fine motor planning and. Improvements were observed between 1-8 weeks into treatment, with a 90 percent success rate. In just four weeks, parents reported an overall improvement that more than doubled through the length of the experiment.
Although the mechanism of carnosine’s action in autism is not well understood, a reasonable hypothesis is that it modulates neurotransmission in frontal lobe function. The frontal lobes control emotions, seizure activity, language and abstract reasoning. This would mean that carnosine both enhances brain frontal lobe function and acts as a neuro protector. Carnosine may also affect metal ion transfer of zinc and copper in the deep frontal cortex. Carnosine has also been shown to be protective against certain types of seizures. It is important to note that carnosine is one of the few nutrients that has been shown to be effective in autism through a double blind placebo controlled study, which in science is the gold standard for proving the effectiveness of a treatment. Carnosine may also be useful for dyslexia and ADHD.
Currently available pharmaceutical medications prescribed for Alzheimer’s disease do nothing to combat the damage caused by amyloid plaque and oxidative stress, two key factors in the genesis of this devastating illness. Experimental studies, however, suggest that carnosine can help protect against both.
Treatment with carnosine has been found to reduce or completely prevent cell damage caused by beta amyloid plaque, the substance found in the brain of Alzheimer’s disease patients. Beta amyloid can interact with certain receptors causing damage to the nerves and arteries of the brain. Carnosine blocks and inactivates beta amyloid, so it protects neural tissues against dementia. Alzheimer’s is perhaps the most feared disease of aging adults, and it seems that carnosine is one of the very few substances demonstrated to be helpful in protecting the brain from this neurodegeneration.
Carnosine also protects brains cells by fighting toxins formed by the perioxidation of polyunsaturated fats. One theory of Alzheimer’s disease development holds that the distorted blood vessels seen in the disease are the primary cause of Alzheimer’s, since they impairs delivery of nutrients to the brain. An experiment on rat brains shows that carnosine prevents this damage. Carnosine also has the unique ability to chelate copper, zinc and other metals, and to remove them from the body. The inappropriate balance of copper and zinc in the brain may contribute to Alzheimer’s. This may be an important function of carnosine in preventing and slowing down Alzheimer´s and other degenerative brain disorders.
Carnosine and Aging
Laboratory research on cell life indicates that L-Carnosine has the ability to rejuvenate cells approaching old age, restoring normal appearance and extending cellular life span. In fact it can actually recover old cells to approximately 90 percent of its original youthful state. This appears to be done mainly through glycalation and anti oxidation.
Carnosine is a free radical scavenger, which means it can mop up and neutralize free radicals in the body. Free radicals have been associated with many diseases including cancer, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, diabetes and atherosclerosis. Many feel that aging per se is a free radical process. The class of nutrients which can protect against free radical damage are called antioxidants. Oxidative stress causes breaks and other aberrations in the chromosome that accumulate with age. A fascinating experiment shows the effects of antioxidants on oxidative damage to chromosomes (Gille JJ et al., 1991). This study exposed chromosomes to 90 percent oxygen. Cells cultured without any antioxidant exhibited 133 chromosomal aberrations per 100 cells. Carnosine reduced this level of damage by two-thirds, to only 44 chromosomal aberrations per 100 cells. Surprisingly, carnosine was the only antioxidant to significantly protect chromosomes from oxidative damage due to 90% oxygen exposure. Carnosine has been shown to work most effectively in this capacity when combined with Vitamin E – since carnosine reaches the parts of body that contain water while Vitamin E reaches the fatty parts.
Glycalation and Carbonylation
Sugar can mix inappropriately with proteins and cause damage in a process called glycalation. Carbon groups can cause similar damage in a process called carbonylation. Carnosine has the ability not only to prevent these damaging link from occurring but also can reverse the damage that has already occurred. When damaged proteins accumulate and cross-link in the skin it causes wrinkles and loss of elasticity. Therfore carnosine has the ability to actually restore youthful skin by reversing glycalation. Cataracts are also believed to result from the gradual accumulation of damaged tissues. L-Carnosine is believed to help by binding to receptor sites where damage normally occurs, preventing further damage and reversing damage that has already occurred. Carnosine eye drops have been shown to restore 100% of vision cases of primary senile cataract and 80% in cases of mature senile cataracts.
The theory that glycalation inhibitors such as carnosine may be a useful adjunct in both preventing and treating heart disease has been borne out in animal research as well. In two studies using dogs, researchers showed that aging changes induced by glycalation led to decreased heart function by contributing to collagen cross-linking. When this happens, heart blood vessels, as well as the heart muscle itself, lose elasticity and become less efficient. When old dogs received an glycalation inhibitor, they demonstrated a marked decrease in heart muscle stiffness as well as improved overall cardiac function.
Other conditions in which carnosine has been shown to be useful include wound healing, gastric ulcers, hearing loss due to auditory nerve damage, Parkinson’s and stroke prevention and treatment. Eye conditions besides cataracts that carnosine is effective in include corneal disease, glaucoma and increased intraocular pressure. It is extremely useful for diabetics since carnosine is effective in protecting the nerves, eyes (cataracts), arteries and kidneys against sugar-related damage. Carnosine has also been found to inhibit diabetic nephropathy by protecting the nerve cells. Diabetics therefore can benefit from carnosine supplementation for peripheral neuropathy.
Carnosine’s remarkable spectrum of health benefits makes this versatile nutrient an essential component of any anti-aging program. It is not hard to see why carnosine is one of the most widely studied nutrients available. Carnosine is found in both fish and animal protein. However since body stores of carnosine decline precipitously with age you may want to supplement with carnosine. The usual dosages are 200 to 500mg once a day. Carnosine is an extremely non-toxic and safe substance. Hyperactive autistic patients may show signs of over stimulation, including increased irritability, hyperactivity, or insomnia, when given higher doses of L-Carnosine. Other side effects seem to be negligible.
Mary Ackerley MD, MD(H), ABIHM is a board certified psychiatrist specializing in hormone replacement, depression, anxiety and natural weight loss.
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