- Depressed individuals
have low levels of acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC) in their blood
- ALC is a
naturally-produced substance that is also available as a nutritional
- People with severe or
treatment-resistant depression have low blood levels of the substance ALC
Depressed people have
blood levels of a substance called acetyl-L-carnitine that is naturally
produced and involved in many important reactions in the body, according to a
Stanford University School of Medicine scientist and her collaborators in a
also available as a nutritional supplement in pharmacies, supermarkets, and
health food catalogs.
‘Depression is now associated with low blood levels of a compound produced in the body called acetyl-L-carnitine; the lower the levels of acetyl-L-carnitine, the more severe the depression.’
were published online in the Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences
between Depression and ALC: Previous Studies
review lists clinical studies that have been conducted with ALC in animal and
cellular models and show that the effects of ALC on the neuroplasticity (brain plasticity - the
ability of the brain to change throughout an individual's life) could be the
basis of it being a potentially
effective and tolerable next treatment option for patients with depression.
The review also
says that this must be backed up with more data from advanced clinical trials
to determine whether ALC could work alone or has to be given with another pill
to be clinically beneficial for depression
current study has been done with animals, the authors mark that the link
between acetyl-L-carnitine levels and depression may apply to people, too. They
say this could lead the way to a new class of antidepressants
devoid of side effects and
faster-acting than current medications, and that may help patients for whom
existing treatments do not work or have stopped working.
MD, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford, described
the findings as "an exciting addition to our understanding of the
mechanisms of depressive illness. As a clinical psychiatrist, I have treated
many people with this disorder in my practice. It's the No. 1 reason for
absenteeism at work, and one of the leading causes of suicide," Rasgon said.
"Worse, current pharmacological treatments are effective for only about 50
percent of the people for whom they're prescribed. And they have numerous side
effects, often decreasing long term compliance."
Acetyl-L-carnitine's Connection with the Brain: Current Study
Dr. Carla Nasca
PhD, a postdoctoral scholar, had earlier conducted experiments on rodents where
he had shown that a deficiency of acetyl-L-carnitine was associated with
depression-like behavior and when the animals were given acetyl-L-carnitine
orally or as an injection the symptoms reversed and they restored their normal
time to acetyl-L-carnitine supplementation was within a few days. In contrast,
current antidepressants typically take two to four weeks to start working in
experiments with animals and among patients.
studies indicated that ALC (much needed in fat
metabolism and energy production throughout the body) might play a special role
in the brain
In the current
study, Nasca recruited 20- to 70-year-old men and women with a diagnosis of
depression and who had been admitted for treatment to either Weill Cornell
Medicine or Mount Sinai School of Medicine (New York) during episodes of acute
then screened the participants using a detailed questionnaire, assessed them
clinically, and took their blood samples and medical histories. They diagnosed
twenty-eight of them to have moderate depression, and 43 to have severe
The research team compared the blood samples
of the test participants with 45 demographically matched healthy people.
- The results clearly indicated that acetyl-L-carnitine levels in
the blood of the depressed patients were substantially lower compared to
the control individuals. These findings were seen in both men and women,
regardless of age.
- The lowest levels of ALC were found in those whose symptoms were
most severe (because they were resistant to previous treatments, or the
disorder had set in much earlier early in life).
- Patients reporting a childhood history of abuse, neglect, poverty
or exposure to violence also had low ALC levels.
Rasgon performed the bulk of the
advanced data analysis for the study and concluded that the patients in the
study, who collectively accounted for 25-30 percent of all people with major
depression disorder, are precisely the ones who need effective medications. However, she said it does not
mean rushing to the store to pick up the next available bottle of
acetyl-L-carnitine and self-medicating for depression.
many previous examples of how nutritional supplements widely available over the
counter and unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration - for example, omega-3 fatty acids
or various herbal
substances are touted as panaceas for you-name-it, and then don't pan
out," she said.
Rasgon has plans for future
studies like would patients' symptoms improve if the newly identified biomarker
disorder is used as a supplement and if so, what would be its appropriate dose,
frequency, and duration.
DepressionDepression is also known as a major
depressive disorder or clinical depression
. It is the most prevalent mood disorder in the world,
affecting 8-10 percent of the general population at any given time - the reason
being it is a condition by itself and co-occurs with a number of other disorders.
Genetics, brain biology and chemistry, and stressful
life events could cause depression. It is treated with counseling (cognitive
behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy) and medications. There are
conflicting results for the effectiveness of antidepressants for acute, mild to
moderate depression. The pills might work better in cases of severe
- Sheng-Min Wang, Changsu Han, Soo-Jung Lee, Ashwin A. Patkar, Prakash S. Masand, and Chi-Un Pae. "A review of current evidence for acetyl-l-carnitine in the treatment of depression". Journal of Psychiatric Research, June (2014), Volume 53, Pages 30-37
- Depression: What You Need To Know - (https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression-what-you-need-to-know/index.shtml)