\”The important point to understand here is that carnitine is the only molecule capable of acting as a shuttle for fats’it is unique and essential, and no other compound can replace it.\”
Carnitine: The Vitamin BT Phenomenon
In the movie ‘Matrix Reloaded’ the now-famous character Neo has a final battle with the infamous agent named Smith. Smith has found a way to manipulate the Matrix’s program, making endless copies of himself and trying to take full control of the Matrix. Even with his advanced powers, Neo requests that additional cascades of energy be shuttled to his internal power source, thus enabling him to defeat Smith and his army of identical warriors.
That scenario is like the war that wages in the deepest recesses of your internal fat-burning matrix. Whether you’re a veteran or a novice bodybuilder, fitness champion or amateur, you too wage war against a formidable adversary that has the capability to reproduce and multiply. The problem facing you in your daily battle to retain or gain that lean muscular look is that you have some 30 billion of these agents, namely fat cells, all clamoring for a piece of the pie. If you’re female, as cited by Debra Waterhouse in Outsmarting the Female Fat Cell (New York: Hyperion, 1995), your fat cells are physiologically different from a man’s’larger, more active and more resistant to dieting or change, thus making your battle that much more difficult.
Is There a Fat-Burning Matrix?
Brian Leibovitz’s statement on fat burning implies that fats must be led to a site where they’re burned up, or metabolized. Lawrence E. Lamb, author of Metabolics: Putting Your Food Energy to Work (New York: Harper and Row, 1974) and a former professor of medicine at Baylor University and chief of medical sciences at the School of Aerospace Medicine, reminds us that the real key to burning fat isn’t how efficiently the process occurs during exercise but what happens when you’re not doing anything. Lamb suggests that physiologically you have the ability to metabolize fat continuously. That’s where L-carnitine comes in.
Here are the key questions:
1) How is fat dislodged or removed from various body tissues and storage sites to be burned?
2) Where in the body is fat burned?
3) What is L-carnitine, and why is it considered nature’s preferred molecule for shuttling fat to the body’s internal fat-burning matrix?
Nature’s Preferred Fat-Burning Molecule
L-carnitine was first discovered in 1905 by two Russian scientists who isolated the substance from muscle extracts of various animals. Its name was derived from the Latin carne, meaning flesh. Initially, it was thought to be a vitamin, part of the B-complex family, because it contains nitrogen and is water soluble, two distinct characteristics of B-vitamins. It was called vitamin BT. The misinterpretation was later clarified after the discovery that humans and other organisms synthesized the substance. A vitamin by definition is a substance essential to the body but that the body can’t produce. The body can produce L-carnitine from the amino acids lysine and methionine.
Fat Burning 101
Like many of the B-vitamins, L-carnitine is a cofactor in metabolism and assists in converting protein, fat and carbohydrate from food into fuel for the body. Some of that fuel is for immediate use, and some is stored as fatty acid for later uses. While immediate energy is burned quickly, the stored source needs a transport nutrient to set the metabolic process, known as lipolysis, in motion. Research has shown that L-carnitine, a nonessential amino acid, is the key substance that liberates fats from various storage cites within the body. Such discoveries led to the description of carnitine’s critical function in fat metabolism, weight management and cardiovascular health.
A Tangled Web
While L-carnitine has vitaminlike characteristics, it presents a set of biological perplexities. Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are a vital part of your lean-muscle development program. Although its major function is not protein synthesis or building neurotransmitters (brain nutrients), the way amino acids do, L-carnitine is recognized as part of the amino acid group. Its primary functions are energy production, muscle building and metabolizing fat. As a fat-burning modulator, it’s the key molecule responsible for moving freed fatty acids into tiny incinerators of the cell known as the mitochondria. Unique, essential and irreplaceable, it is nature’s preferred fat-burning substance.
In Neo’s Shoes
Without that extra power source your innate fat-burning potential lies dormant, unable to slow the growth and replication of those 30 billion fat cells within you. Without the aid of L-carnitine, the door to your fat-burning matrix can’t open to incinerate the fat as readily and as efficiently as nature intended.
Biologically, you’re an interminable fat-burning machine. You have an unlimited potential to store, transfer and convert energy from foodstuffs and various supplemental agents via complex metabolic reactions and the capability of burning fat continuously. The key to maintaining the complex process of unlocking, loading and transporting fat to the mitochondria is the initiation and efficient working of the fat-burning process even at rest, when you aren’t doing anything.
While L-carnitine is classified as a nonessential amino acid because the body can make it, current data reveal that the body’s demand for it may exceed its capacity to properly synthesize it. That fact has prompted health officials to label it a conditionally essential nutrient that warrants additional supplementation. Simply put, though we manufacture L-carnitine, certain conditions, like stress, can render the amount insufficient. Mounting evidence has shown that the rate at which the body burns fat is to a large degree determined by how well its carnitine-dependent transport system works. When the process is working at peak performance, fatty acids from stored spaces in the liver, muscle and body tissues supply enormous energy to the muscles. That facilitates stronger muscle pump, which encourages oxygen to circulate more freely, thus keeping fat-burning cycles running smoothly and continuously. The larger the supply of oxygen, the more fatty acids are burned for fuel. ALL Fit for Fat Burning
L-carnitine is broken down in the liver and kidneys, where it is sent out to other tissues in the body that use fatty acids as their primary fuel source, like skeletal and cardiac muscle. It’s a two-prong process: First L-carnitine immobilizes fat from tissue and breaks it down for use as fuel, and then intermediate compounds (the stubborn fat by-products) are escorted out of the mitochondrial matrix to prevent their accumulation and the formation of new fats. It’s nature at its best, putting its preferred fat-burning molecule to work for you.
So, reload, reload, reload. High levels of L-carnitine increase the speed of fat burning while low levels reduce it. Current data suggest that 1,000 to 3,000 milligrams of L-carnitine daily keep the shuttle system operating correctly and reduce blood triglycerides, the most common fat found in food. Formation of fat from dietary calories is known as lipogenesis.
L-carnitine and Ketosis
Dr. Jeffrey Bland in Octacosanol, Carnitine and Other ‘Accessory’ Nutrients (New Canaan, Conn.: Keats, 1982) describes ketosis as a low-carbohydrate body state. Proponents of ketogenic diets insist that if your body doesn’t contain appreciable amounts of carbohydrate to draw on for energy, the body resorts to an alternate source of fuel, namely, stored bodyfat. If those diets aren’t monitored, especially in diabetic patients, however, the ketone bodies can cause the blood to become ‘acidic,’ resulting in excessive loss of vital electrolytes as the body eliminates the unused calories.
Left unchecked, the condition may become life threatening. Researchers now know that L-carnitine’s fat-metabolism property actually prevents the accumulation of ketone bodies. So if you’re on the Atkins or another low-carb diet, you’d greatly benefit from an L-carnitine supplement.
Inside Your Fat-Burning Matrix
The mitochondria are microscopic sausage-shaped ‘power stations’ that process energy, produce electricity and leave water and carbon dioxide behind. Scientists contend that mitochondria are so elaborately designed that they’re cells within cells. According to John Pfeiffer, author of The Cell and a former science editor for Newsweek, the interiors of the mitochondria look something like cutaway models of ocean liners, with many chambers and compartments. Although tiny, these internal power plants provide the cell with the energy it needs for growth, reproduction and other functions, including fat burning.
In the mitochondria, food is broken down to form adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, freeing energy stored in the macronutrients by transforming them into a usable form. The mitochondria provide the chemical energy for active transport, synthesis and all enderogonic (energy requiring) and exerogonic (energy yielding) chemical reactions.
Fats you eat and those your body makes are found in the bloodstream as triglycerides, or free fatty acids. They’re guided toward the cells of different organs, such as the heart and muscle tissue, and once they find their way into the cell, a molecule known as coenzyme A starts preparing fats for their descent into the mitochondria matrix. Even so, CoA isn’t powerful enough to penetrate the inner membrane of the mitochondria, the site where fat actually burns. L-carnitine must complete the process by carrying fat across the inner mitochondrial matrix.
Six nutrients have been identified as having the ability to program more power or increase the production of L-carnitine and are essential for its biosynthesis: lysine, methionine, vitamin C, vitamin B3, vitamin B6 and iron. Of the six, the amino acid lysine is the most important. There’s substantial evidence that people who are deficient in lysine hinder their body’s ability to completely manufacture L-carnitine. Some common deficiency symptoms of L-carnitine include muscle fatigue and weakness, as well as the accumulation of fat in muscle tissue.
Most animal foods supply ample amounts of L-carnitine. Plant foods provide very low levels. Lamb and beef are your most abundant sources, with chicken, yeast, cow’s milk, wheat germ, bread, cauliflower and peanuts supplying only small amounts.
Amino acids are designated as either ‘L’ (such as L-lysine) or ‘D’ (such as D-phenylalanine). L-forms are in their natural state and are biologically active, or ready for use by human tissue. D-forms are in a synthetic, or artificial, state. When supplementing with L-carnitine, make sure you purchase the L-form and not D-carnitine or DL-carnitine. Toxic reactions have been noted with the use of D-isomer forms of carnitine, manifesting as severe muscle weakness. Additionally, the more D-carnitine uptake by the cells, the lower the rate at which fatty acids are transported into the mitochondria matrix. In clinical trials dose ranges of one to 15 grams presented no side effects except short-term diarrhea. For daily maintenance 500 milligrams has been suggested as a dosage. To fine-tune, jump-start or keep the carnitine-dependent shuttle system working at peak levels and to reduce blood triglyceride levels, though, you need 1,000 to 3,000 milligrams daily. Take one hour before exercising.
A lot of us resort to exotic and dangerous drugs, protocols and surgery to achieve that refined and defined look of muscularity and leanness. Yet within the deepest recesses of our brain and our fat-burning matrix lies a network of chemical keys and molecules that are responsible for maintaining an exquisite balance and that encourage the body to follow through on its inborn fat-burning capacity. Whatever body-conditioning vehicle you’re using’exercise, fasting, supplements, drugs, weight training, dieting, etc.’unless L-carnitine is freed, fatty acids can’t enter the matrix to be burned up and prevented from accumulating. So give your body a fighting chance against those 30 billion fat cells by reloading your carnitine-dependent fat-burning matrix with L-carnitine, often and judiciously.
Benefits of L-carnitine
‘Increases concentrations of pyruvate ATP and creatine phosphate in portions of heart muscle during times of extreme stress.
‘Supports normal blood flow by fostering greater peripheral circulation.
‘Improves resistance to muscle fatigue.
‘Fosters fatty-acid and carbohydrate metabolism.
‘Protects vessel walls against hypoxia (lack of oxygen).
‘Stimulates the heart’s energy supply, thus improving cardiac performance.
‘Helps prevent cardiac arrhythmia.
‘Reduces levels of triglycerides while elevating HDL cholesterol.
‘Enhances the metabolism of branched-chain amino acids in skeletal-muscle tissue when fats and carbohydrates are limited during prolonged periods of exercise or fasting.
‘Increases overall energy levels.
Editor’s note: George A. Redmon is an author, nutritional counselor and doctor of naturopoathy who’s been associated with the natural-health industry for more than 20 years. He is a graduate of the Clayton College of Natural Health, American Holistic College of Nutrition (Ph.D.) and Walden University (Ph.D.). His books include Sensual for Life (Kensington), Natural Born Fatburners (Safe Goods), Energy for Life (Vital Health), Managing and Preventing Arthritis: The Natural Alternatives (Hohm), Managing and Preventing Prostate Disorders: The Natural Alternatives (Hohm) and Minerals: What Your Body Really Needs and Why (Avery).IM