- Promotes Normal Growth and Development -

Acetyl-L-carnitine is similar in form to the amino acid carnitine and also has some similar functions, such as being involved in the metabolism of food into energy.

The acetyl group that is part of acetyl-L-carnitine contributes to the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Several double blind clinical trials suggest that acetyl-L-carnitine delays the progression of Alzheimer’s disease1 2 and enhances overall performance in some individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.3 Alzheimer’s research has been done with the acetyl-L-carnitine form, rather than the L-carnitine form, of this nutrient.


Recently, acetyl-L-carnitine has been the subject of numerous scientific studies showing this remarkable compound may be key in maintaining normal brain and nerve function during aging.

Acetyl-L-carnitine is a naturally occurring metabolite of L-carnitine, and both are present in the diet, particularly in foods of animal origin.

Traditionally, their main claim to fame lies in their role in fatty acid oxidation. L-carnitine and acetyl-L-carnitine are part of the so-called carnitine shuttle. L-carnitine shuttles fatty acids into the cell's mitochondria for oxidation and energy production. The main end products of fatty acid oxidation are energy (in the form of NADH), and acetyl groups. Most of these acetyl groups are further oxidized in the mitochondria's Krebs cycle, but some are needed in the cytosol for producing other important metabolites. Acetyl-L-carnitine provides a way to carry these acetyl groups through the mitochondrial membranes back out into the cytosol (the cell fluid).

In brain and other nerve tissues, this acetyl group export by acetyl-L-carnitine is important in maintaining normal levels of acetyl groups for the production of acetylcholine and other neurotransmitters that are so crucial for normal brain and nerve function.

Acetyl-L-carnitine also helps maintain normal activity of choline acetyl transferase. This important enzyme has a tendency to decline with age, causing suboptimal acetylcholine levels which in turn are thought to contribute to the impairment of brain function that is associated with aging.

Besides maintaining normal acetylcholine levels, several studies indicate other neuroprotective effects of acetyl-L-carnitine, which may be due to at least two modes of action. First, acetyl-L-carnitine has been shown to maintain cellular membrane stability, and to restore age-related membranal changes. Acetyl-L-carnitine can also act as an antioxidant, scavenging harmful superoxide anion radicals. Since superoxide anion can damage membrane lipids, this may explain acetyl-L-carnitine's membrane protective properties. Second, animal studies indicate that acetyl-L-carnitine preserves normal levels of nerve growth factor in brain tissue during aging. Moreover, human studies indicated that acetyl-L-carnitine increases cerebral blood flow.

In summary, acetyl-L-carnitine is a naturally occurring compound that supports normal brain and nerve function during aging through various mechanisms. These include its actions on acetylcholine synthesis, membrane stability, nerve growth factor production, and cerebral blood flow.

Acetyl-L-carnitine appears to be well absorbed and utilized by the body. Typically, daily amounts of 1,500 to 3,000 mg have been used for several months and were found to be adequate in human studies without adverse effects.


Bowman BA; Acetyl-L-carnitine and Alzheimer's disease. Nutr Rev 1992;50:142-144.

Carta A et al: Acetyl-L-carnitine and Alzheimer's disease: pharmacological considerations beyond the cholinergic sphere. Ann N Y Acad Sci 1993;695:324-326.

Forloni G et al: Neuroprotective activity of acetyl-L-carnitine: studies in vitro. J Neurosci Res 1994;37:92-96.

Postiglione A et al: Cerebral blood flow in patients with chronic cerebrovascular disease: effect of acetyl-L-carnitine. Int J Clin Pharmacol Res 1990;10:129-132.

Salvioloi G, and Neri M: L-acetylcarnitine treatment of mental decline in the elderly. Drugs Exp Clin Res 1995;20:169-176.

Sano M et al: Double-blind parallel design pilot study of acetyl levocarnitine in patients with Alzheimer's disease. Arch Neurol 1992;49:1137-1141.

Spagnoli A et al: Long-term acetyl-L-carnitine treatment in Alzheimer's disease. Neurology 1991;41:1726-1732.

Taglialatela G et al: Acetyl-L-carnitine treatment increases nerve growth factor levels and choline acetyl transferase activity in the central nervous system of aged rats. Exp Gerontol 1994;29:55-66.

White HL, and Scates PW: Acetyl-L-carnitine as a precursor of acetylcholine. Neurochem Res 1990;15:597-601


- Q & A -


Where is it found? 

Acetyl-L-carnitine is a molecule that occurs naturally in the brain and other tissues. It is also available as a supplement.

Who is likely to be deficient? 

Acetyl-L-carnitine levels may decrease with advancing age; however, because it is not an essential nutrient, deficiencies do not occur.

How much is usually taken? 

Most research involving acetyl-L-carnitine uses 500 mg three times per day, though some research uses double this amount.

Are there any side effects or interactions? 

Acetyl-L-carnitine is safe, although skin rash, increased appetite, nausea, vomiting, agitation, and body odor have been reported in individuals taking acetyl-L-carnitine.

At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions with acetyl-L-carnitine.


1. Pettegrew JW, Klunk WE, Panchalingam K, et al. Clinical and neurochemical effects of acetyl-L-carnitine in Alzheimer’s disease. Neurobio Aging 1995;16:1–4.
2. Sano M, Bell K, Cote L, et al. Double-blind parallel design pilot study of acetyl levocarnitine in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Arch Neurol 1992;49:1137–41.
3. Cucinotta D et al. Multicenter clinical placebo-controlled study with acetyl-L-carnitine (LAC) in the treatment of mildly demented elderly patients. Drug Development Res 1988;14:213–16.
4. Thal LJ, Carta A, Clarke WR, et al. A 1-year multicenter placebo-controlled study of acetyl-L-carnitine in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Neurology 1996;47:705–11.
5. Rai G, Wright G, Scott L, et al. Double-blind, placebo controlled study of acetyl-L-carnitine in patients with Alzheimer’s dementia. Curr Med Res Opin 1990;11:638–47.


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