the new anti-aging supplement
by Marios Kyriazis MD
Although carnosine (also known as
been known for about a century, its antiaging properties have only been
extensively studied during the past few years. A recent literature review
revealed over 780 published studies on carnosine, mainly by Russian and Japanese
However, more widespread interest in this natural nontoxic product
has recently increased, fuelled by dramatic Australian and British
discoveries about its antiaging actions (1).
(B-alanyl-L-histidine) is a naturally-occurring di-peptide
(a combination of two amino acids), found in muscle, brain and other innervated
animal and human tissues. It is formed by a process involving the enzyme
carnosine-synthetase which bonds the amino acids alinine and histidine. This
process occurs mainly in muscles and brain. It is kept in equilibrium by the
carnisinases which are enzymes specifically aimed at inactivating carnosine in
the tissues or in the blood.
There are several other related dipeptides such as
carcinine, anserrine, homocarnosine and ophidine, all of which are naturally-occurring.
These are believed to be buffering agents, helping to maintain the homeostatic
High concentrations of carnosine are present in long-lived
cells (such as in neuronal tissues). The concentration of carnosine in muscles
correlates with maximum lifespan, a fact that makes it a promising bio-marker of
aging. It is high in actively
contracting muscles and low in cases of muscular disease such as Duchennes's
muscular dystrophy. Its concentration in mammalian muscles possibly decreases
with age, a fact which strengthens the case for supplementation.
In cases of cataract in animals, carnosine concentration in
the lens was found to be low. The lower the concentration of carnosine, the
higher the severity of cataract. Rabbits
fed on a high cholesterol diet, were found to be well protected against
atherosclerosis and cataract if given carnosine supplements.
In another experiment, dogs were also found to be protected against
cataract if given carnosine supplements (2).
Carnosine is widely believed to he an antioxidant which
stabilizes and protects the cell membrane. Specifically, as a water-soluble free
radical scavenger it prevents lipid peroxidation within the cell membrane (3).
It is thought to be a natural counterpart to lipid-soluble antioxidants such as
vitamin E. Maybe it is not a
coincidence that carnosine increases vitamin E levels in rats.
Many antioxidants are aimed at preventing free radicals from
entering the tissues, but have no effect after this first line of defense is
broken. Carnosine is not only effective in prevention, but it is also active
after free radicals react to form other dangerous compounds. So, it protects
the tissues from these damaging 'second-wave' chemicals. For example, a highly
reactive lipid peroxidation end-product called malondialdegyde (MDA)- a
deleterious product of a free radical reaction- is blocked by carnosine (4,5).
MDA, if left uncontrolled, can cause damage to lipids, enzymes and DNA,
and plays a part in the process of atherosclerosis, joint inflammation, cataract
formation, and aging in general. Carnosine,
by reacting and inactivating MDA, sacrifices itself in order to protect the
amino acids on the protein molecule.
Carnosine plays a part in neurotransmission, it is a heavy
metal binder (chelates ionic metals) and modulates enzymatic activities.
Other actions, some of which are not extensively studied include:
anti-neoplastic properties, which make it a potentially
beneficial agent for use in cancer prevention.
* immune booster (it stimulates maturation of immunocompetent
cells), and reduces inflammation.
* wound healing properties and
protection against radiation damage (both preventing damage and reversing the
Laboratory animals treated with carnosine were found to have faster and
better wound healing rates compared to controls. This has potential applications
to treating burns, wounds following surgery, or during nutritional preparation
for surgery (5).
reduction of gastric ulceration (particularly when the ulcer is related to
stress), both by preventing the formation of the ulcer and by healing it (carnosine
increases the formation of granulation tissue).
It does not affect acid secretion.
Perhaps, the most important action of carnosine is its anti-glycosylation effect
(8). One of the cardinal processes of aging, apart from free-radical damage, is
the process of glycosylation (or glycation).
During normal, everyday metabolism, sugar aldehydes may react with the
mino acids on the protein molecule. The result is the formation of AGEs (Advance
Glycosylation End-products). These are abnormal, cross-linked. oxidized products
which are thought to cause extensive damage to the organism. Carnosine blocks
this deleterious reaction. protecting against cross-linking of proteins,
cross-linking of proteins to DNA molecules, and formation of other abnormal
proteins, all of which are fundamental features of the aging process.
anti-glycators such as aminoguanidine may also protect
against glycosylation hut not as effectively as carnosine. Some amino acids (arginine
or lysine) are also able to combine with glucose in order to eliminate dangerous
AGEs, but the end-product of this reaction is mutagenic (i.e. it may cause
cancer). The combination of carnosine with glucose however is not mutagenic.
Specifically, carnosine reacts with and inactivates aldehydes and
reducing protein glycosylation and the formation of AGEs. It also binds to
already formed AGEs and inactivates them. Normally, AGEs are removed by
scavenging macrophages (immune system cells) which carry special receptors
called RAGEs. Carnosine facilitates this process of elimination, by helping
macrophages to better recognize the AGE molecule. Because of its anti-glycosylation
actions, carnosine may be useful in treating or preventing diabetic
complications such as cataract, neuropathy and kidney failure.
In experiments, treatment with carnosine was found to reduce or completely
prevent cell damage caused by beta amyloid (9), the substance found in the brain
of Alzheimer's disease patients. Beta amyloid can interact with certain RAGE
receptors causing damage to the nerves and arteries of the brain. Carnosine
blocks and inactivates beta amyloid, so it protects neural tissues against
diseases such as dementia.
There have been some
to form lipofuscin (the age pigment commonly found in the aging brain and in
other tissues). Lipofuscin is merely a sign that other deleterious reactions
have already taken place. For example; free radicals and toxic aldehydes may
react with valuable proteins as described above, and cause damage, leaving
lipofuscin as a left-over product. (Ed.-it may be advisable to take a lipofuscin
supplement such as DMAE or acetyl
L-carnitine while on a carnosine program). One
way to save the protein molecule is to use carnosine instead.
Carnosine actively and swiftly binds to aldehydes before these are able
to cause any damage. The end-result of this reaction may also be inactive
In this case, lipofuscin is formed not by wasting
valuable protein material but by using sacrificial carnosine, leaving the
proteins free to function properly. Lipofuscin,
however formed, is thought to be generally inactive to normally everyday
situations. High amounts of free radicals and toxin in the organism are best
inactivated by using supplementary carnosine than tissue protein.
Of course, it would be best to reduce the exposure to too many free
radicals in the first place. This can be achieved for example, by avoiding
pollution, cigarette smoking, sedentary life, and unsuitable nutrition.
After dozens of reports about carnosine's antiaging actions in laboratory
experiments, the next logical step was to start using it on humans, specifically
for antiaging purposes. Carnosine supplements have been used in the past by
body-builders, athletes and others, but its use has been confined mainly for
improving muscular fatigue, and not for longevity.
Recently, eye drops containing carnosine have been developed
and used by Russian researchers (10). The drops were found to be effective in
treating human corneal erosions and other corneal diseases. For example,
carnosine drops accelerate the healing of ulcers in herpes and bacterial
infections of the eye.
During a preliminary experiment designed specifically for
antiaging (11), I used L-carnosine supplements (50 rng daily) on 20 healthy
human volunteers, aged 40 - 75 years, for a period of 1-4 months. No side
affects were reported. Five users noticed significant improvements in their
facial appearance (firmer facial muscles), muscular stamina and general
well-being. Five others reported possible benefits, for example better sleep
patterns, improved clarity of thought and increased libido. The rest did not
report any noticeable effects. This
is not surprising because supplementation with carnosine is not expected to show
any significant noticeable benefits in a short time, but it should be used as an
insurance against deleterious effects of the aging process. If any benefits are
noted, these should be considered as an added extra bonus. It is worthwhile
persevering with the supplementation long term, even if you do not experience
any obvious benefits, as you will still be well protected against aging.
Carnosine can be used together with vitamin E and/or
Co-enzyme Q10 for full antioxidant protection, but even if it is used on its own
it should still confer significant protection both against free radicals and
Indeed, the carnosine preparation I used in my experiments
contains also 30 IU of vitamin E as standard. Some
people prefer lo use 100 mg of carnosine a day (i.e. double the initial standard
dose) and they find that there are still no side effects. Foodstuffs containing
dietary carnosine are lean red meat and chicken.
Where do we go from here? Further
experiments are in progress, aimed at examining more widely the effects of
carnosine on human aging. Those who want to he at the forefront of innovative
antiaging medicine should he taking carnosine now. It is expected that carnosine
supplementation will become much more widespread during the next five years,
making carnosine as popular as vitamin E is today.