The Potential Mental and Physical Benefits of Carnosine

A supplement being researched for Alzheimer's, diabetes, cancer, and more

Carnosine is a peptide produced in the human body that is believed to possess potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as neuroprotective benefits that may improve brain function and defend the central nervous system from harm. Ginseng Extract

The Potential Mental and Physical Benefits of Carnosine

Some believe carnosine may be a functional food ingredient, while others tout carnosine supplements as a natural remedy for diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, cancer, and more. However, research on the benefits of carnosine is limited, and results are mixed.

This article provides an overview of some potential uses of carnosine, including a look at the scientific evidence. It also covers side effects, interactions, precautions, and dosage information for carnosine supplements, as well as natural food sources of carnosine.

Dietary supplements are not regulated the way drugs are in the United States, meaning the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve them for safety and effectiveness before products are marketed. When possible, choose a supplement tested by a trusted third party, such as USP, ConsumerLab, or NSF.

However, even if supplements are third-party tested, it doesn’t mean they are necessarily safe for all or effective in general. Therefore, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider about any supplements you plan to take and check in about potential interactions with other supplements or medications.

Supplement use should be individualized and vetted by a healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian, pharmacist, or healthcare provider. No supplement is intended to treat, cure, or prevent disease. 

According to some researchers, there are potential benefits to using carnosine for various health conditions.

This is thought to be mostly due to the antioxidant properties of alanine and histidine, the two amino acids found in carnosine. Carnosine may also possess anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects.

Unfortunately, though, few clinical trials have tested the potential health benefits of carnosine supplements. Until such trials are conducted, it's difficult to tell how the consumption of carnosine might influence human health.

What follows is a look at some of the research on carnosine.

Carnosine is known to cross the blood-brain barrier—the barrier between the brain and the rest of the body that many substances cannot enter. According to one review, it has also been found to protect the brain from harmful substances called reactive oxygen species (ROS).

Another review on carnosine noted its ability to protect the brain from inflammation. For this reason, the review indicated that carnosine might play a role in preventing Alzheimer's disease.

It should be noted that these reviews were mostly based on animal and laboratory research. Well-designed clinical trials in humans on the effects of carnosine on Alzheimer's disease are required before conclusions can be drawn.

Some research has shown that carnosine may be beneficial to people with diabetes.

Although evidence is still emerging, animal studies have indicated that carnosine supplementation may help delay the progression of diabetes and improve the side effects and complications of the disease.

A pilot study provided evidence that carnosine supplementation may protect against diabetes development in individuals without diabetes classified as obese. Study participants were randomly assigned to receive either carnosine or a placebo (an intentionally ineffective substance) for 12 weeks. At the end of the small study, both the levels of two-hour glucose (blood sugar) and insulin (the hormone that helps regulate glucose) were lower in the participants who took carnosine but not those who took the placebo.

A review of four randomized control trials found that carnosine supplementation may decrease HbA1C (hemoglobin A1C), but did not have a significant effect on fasting blood sugar.

Although these findings seem promising, further human research is needed.

Several preliminary studies performed in a lab suggest that carnosine may possess anticancer properties. However, it's important to note that no human trials have examined the relationship between carnosine and cancer prevention.

In one such study, carnosine was observed to inhibit the growth of cancer cells in various tissues, including those of the breast, ovaries, and colon.

Another lab study on carnosine focused only on colon cancer cells. Researchers found that not only did carnosine suppress the growth of cancer cells, but it also increased autophagy . This is the process in which cells spontaneously break down and destroy old or dysfunctional cell components.

While interesting, it's important to remember that this research is in its infancy. Human trials are necessary to determine whether these findings are applicable.

There is interest in using carnosine for other areas of human health. However, as with much of the research surrounding carnosine, the evidence supporting these uses is limited.

Carnosine is also being researched for its role in:

Until more research is conducted, you must talk with your healthcare provider before using carnosine supplements for these and other uses.

The length of time it takes for carnosine to work depends on what it is being used for. Research into the benefits of carnosine supplements tend to examine its effects over the course of eight to 12-week periods. It appears that some symptom improvement can be seen within this time.

Little is known about the safety of carnosine supplements. While carnosine is generally thought to be safe, it may cause side effects.

Side effects have rarely been reported in studies performed on carnosine supplements. However, it's important to remember that few human trials on carnosine exist, and side effects may still be possible.

Because the health risks of carnosine supplements are mostly unknown, you should talk with your healthcare provider before using carnosine. To prevent any potential adverse events, take carnosine supplements exactly as directed.

Some people more than others should take extra precautions before using carnosine supplements.

The safety of carnosine supplements in people who are pregnant or breastfeeding has not yet been established. To be safe, avoid using carnosine supplements if pregnant or nursing.

There also is insufficient information on whether carnosine supplements are safe for children or people with medical conditions. Be sure to talk with your healthcare provider about carnosine supplements to determine whether it is safe for you to take them.

Always speak with a healthcare provider before taking a supplement to ensure that the supplement and dosage are appropriate for your individual needs. 

Dosage guidelines have not been established for carnosine supplements. This may be because there are no proven medical benefits of carnosine, making it impossible to recommend a therapeutic dose.

In some studies, carnosine supplements have been provided at a dose of 1 gram per day (1 g/day) for up to 12 weeks. Other studies have used higher or lower doses of carnosine. However, many of these studies were performed on animal models, making it difficult to know the efficacy of such doses in humans.

In general, it's recommended that you follow dosing instructions as listed on the supplement's product label. Your healthcare provider may also be able to help you establish proper carnosine dosage.

Carnosine supplements are not thought to be toxic. However, safety tests of carnosine have mostly been performed on animals. Human safety trials are needed to guarantee safety of carnosine supplements.

If you take more carnosine than you should, you may increase your chances of side effects. Be sure only to take carnosine supplements exactly as directed.

Carnosine supplements may negatively interact with various medications, herbs, and supplements. However, these interactions are not well-documented.

There may be an interaction between carnosine and blood sugar–lowering medications typically used for diabetes. Although this interaction has not been studied, ask your healthcare provider if carnosine supplements are appropriate for you if you're currently taking an anti-diabetic.

Interactions may cause medications to work improperly. More research is needed to verify whether carnosine interacts with other drugs or supplements.

Before choosing a supplement, it is essential that you carefully read the ingredients list and nutrition facts panel to learn which ingredients are in the product and how much of each ingredient is included. It is also vital that you review supplement labels with your healthcare provider to discuss any potential interactions with foods, other supplements, and medications. 

Proper storage of supplements ensures better shelf-life. Store carnosine supplements in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Be sure to follow storage instructions as described on the product label. Typically, you do not need to refrigerate carnosine supplements.

Keep carnosine supplements out of reach of small children and pets. Discard unused supplements once they reach their expiration date.

Other herbs and supplements that have been researched for similar reasons to carnosine include:

It is often recommended that you avoid taking multiple supplements for the same health concern. Talk with your healthcare provider about which herbs and supplements are best for you.

There are questions about the necessity of carnosine supplementation since many foods naturally contain the substance.

It's always best to take a food-first approach to getting the nutrients your body needs. And since you can find carnosine in various foods, you may not need a supplement at all. However, if you need to use a carnosine supplement, then there are some things to keep in mind.

Many animal-based foods are natural sources of carnosine. These include:

Carnosine is only available in foods derived from animals. Therefore, a carnosine supplement may be a good option for people who don't eat meat.

Carnosine supplements are typically sold as capsules but are also available in powder form. Although you can find supplements that contain only carnosine, there are also many supplements that contain carnosine and other substances, like zinc and other vitamins and minerals.

Vegans and vegetarians can safely take most carnosine supplements as long as the capsules are not gelatin-based. Many options are also gluten-free.

Keep in mind that supplements are not well-regulated in the United States, and many haven't been tested for safety. This means the content of some products may differ from what's specified on the product label.

To be safe, find reputable brands that have been tested and approved by a recognized third-party agency, like USP, NSF, or ConsumerLab. Doing so may ensure the highest quality possible. 

Remember that carnosine supplements are not a cure-all and should never replace standard care.

Carnosine is a substance naturally made in the body by two amino acids: histidine and alanine. It's also found in various animal foods.

Although side effects seem minimal, research on the uses and benefits of carnosine is limited and has shown mixed results. There is not enough evidence to indicate that carnosine is truly beneficial for any condition.

Talk with your healthcare provider before taking carnosine to make sure it's the right choice for you.

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By Brittany Lubeck, RD Brittany Lubeck, RD, is a nutrition writer and registered dietitian with a master's degree in clinical nutrition. 

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The Potential Mental and Physical Benefits of Carnosine

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