With R(+)-lipoic acid, in short, the old animals got back their get-up-and-go. But there's another possible solution to the problem of fading energy production with age, in the form of the compound acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR).
ALCAR is a better-absorbed form of carnitine, an amino-acid-like substance involved in shuttling energy from fat into the mitochondria. More: ALCAR supplements also boost levels of cardiolipin in mitochondria. Cardiolipin is a fatty substance found only in mitochondria. It's needed for the functioning of several of the energy transporters and "pumps" that help create the ion "reservoir" whose force drives ions through Complex V turbines to create energy.
As a result, adding ALCAR to the diets of old animals increases the activity of several mitochondrial energy transporters and ion pumps 78, 79 , 80, 81 and the mitochondria of old animals fed ALCAR supplements produce as much energy as those of young. 80, 82 And, again as is seen with R(+)-lipoic acid, 73 old animals fed ALCAR double the amount of distance they cover when running around in their cages. 82.
Results in humans show that this isn't just a lab-rat result. Many short-term studies using even "standard" L-carnitine supplements have shown improvements in exercise performance in people with cardiomyopathy (weakened and structurally abnormal hearts), vascular disease, 83 heart failure, 84 or whose hearts have been damaged by a heart attack 85.
But if this makes it sound as if you should rush out to buy ALCAR supplements for mitochondrial function, there's just two little details you'll want to know. The first has nothing to do with science, and everything to do with the right of the individual to make decisions about his or her own health: "Health" Canada has decided that you can't have ALCAR or standard L-carnitine supplements.
But the second, and more important, problem is that, while ALCAR increases the transport of fuel into the mitochondria - thereby increasing mitochondrial energy production - it doesn't improve the efficiency with which that energy is produced. In fact, old animals receiving ALCAR actually produce 30% more free radicals for every unit of energy that they produce. 82
We've already seen how much aging itself makes the mitochondria of young animals burn "dirtier" than those of young ones. 73, 74 Making the mitochondria even more polluting using ALCAR can be expected to have a serious impact on the cell, and the long-term health of the organism. Indeed, we've seen how the age-related increase of free radical production impacts the levels of vitamin C and reduced glutathione in these animals. 73, 74, 75 Well, giving old animals ALCAR supplements actually lowers antioxidant defenses even further, slashing vitamin C by an additional 50% and cutting an extra 30% off of their reduced glutathione supplies!
In other words, giving old animals ALCAR is like flooring the gas pedal on a worn-out old Cadillac: sure, the car goes faster … but it also belches out more pollution. And the harder you push the engine, the dirtier its exhaust.
By contrast, you'll recall, R(+)-Lipoic Acid not only increases old animals' energy production, but also reduces the amount of free radical waste created in the process, and restores more youthful antioxidant defenses. 73, 74 So what would happen if you combined the two supplements, creating (one might expect) a vehicle which both runs more cleanly and powerfully per unit of fuel consumed (as with R(+)-lipoic acid), and is running more fuel through the engine (as in ALCAR)?
The study has been done 73, 82, 86 although the actual numbers have yet to be properly published. The results: supplementing old animals' diets with a combination of ALCAR and R(+)-Lipoic Acid simultaneously gives a boost to mitochondrial metabolism, while resulting in no increase in free radical stress. (To find out just how much more energy the mitochondria of old animals receiving both supplements produce, as compared to the extra juice they get from either supplement alone, we'll have to wait for the full publication of their results).
And crucially, free radical researcher Dr. Bruce Ames of UC Berkeley, who has been a leading force in the ALCAR research from the beginning, has recently revealed that only R(+)-Lipoic Acid has these effects. In his words, "Lipoic acid sold in a health food store is a synthetic mixture, a racemic mixture. And R[+]- is the natural form and S[-]- is an unnatural one ... And in our hands R[+]- works and S[-]- doesn't." 86
Astonishing results. Results that force us to ask daring, even radical questions about the role of this orthomolecule in the fundamental processes of life and death.
Please consult with a health care professional before starting any supplementation program. The information contained on this site is general in nature and Company does not take any responsibility for any errors that may appear. Company has made every attempt to make the information as accurate as possible. However, Company does not warrant its accuracy. Please note that the statements on this web site have not been evaluated by the FDA.