Tribulus terrestris does not boost testosterone, yet it’s in damn near every testosterone booster. Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR) is the Tribulus of the nootropic market.
ALCAR does enhance, or at least protect, cognition, but only for specific demographics. For the boring ol’ average Joe (i.e. YOU, probably), ALCAR doesn’t amount to SQUAT. Maybe even LESS THAN SQUAT. And until we figure out to how much squat actually amounts, we’ll just have to slap a big ol’ question mark on this compound.
Unless we can solve that question mark in this review.
How ALCAR Is Supposed to Work
L-Carnitine is a semi-essential amino acid synthesized in the brain & body, used for a variety of metabolic functions. Essentially, all you need to know about carnitine:
You need it to function.
This doesn’t make carnitine a unique amino acid — you “need” all amino acids to function — yet, it deserves special attention for its neuroprotective role on cognition. As you age, metabolic energy & brain chemistry goes all wonky, and one of the reasons for this is:
↑ in aging has been associated with ↓ natural carnitine synthesis.
And as carnitine synthesis decreases, mitochondrial function decreases, acetylcholine levels decline, and the brain gets derpy. One option to rectify this is to eat more carnitine-rich red meat — however, many health enthusiasts avoid this dietary pathway due to the risk factors of consuming too much meat.
The other option, the nootropic option and the subject of this review, is supplement Acetyl L Carnitine (ALCAR), the carnitine form capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier (not all carnitine can do this). The bio-benefits associated with ALCAR include:
Maintains Mitochondrial Productivity
The theory behind ALCAR’s mitochondrial action: ALCAR acts as fatty acid transporter, shuttling fatty acid material through mitochondrial membranes — or out of mitochondrial membranes. This does two things:
- Provides fuel for mitochondria to transfer into energy.
- Flushes the toxic byproducts of mitochondrial metabolism.
Ultimately, this support leads to better functioning mitochondria, i.e. enhanced energy production, an important aspect of maintaining the brain, the most energy-demanding organ of the body. Ugh. More on Nootropic Brain Energy.
Supports Acetylcholine Status
ALCAR’s chemical structure resembles the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh), a key neurotransmitter to memory, learning, & long-term cognitive health. The structural similar enables ALCAR to serve as raw precursor material to ACh, a bio-benefit similar to citicoline & alpha-GPC, which are commonly stacked with ALCAR.
The combination of decreased ALCAR levels and decreased carnitine acetyltransferase, an enzyme that converts carnitine to ACh, in older folk contributes to age-related cognitive deterioration. Mixing ALCAR with a choline source (citicoline or alpha-GPC) in addition to a cholinergic racetam (e.g. piracetam) may help ALCAR support elderly ACh status.
The word “elderly” keeps popping up, so I might as well come out with it:
ALCAR only seems to benefit elderly cognition.
Despite ALCAR’s soaring popularity (that was fun to write) in manufactured nootropic supplements, the “nootropic” doesn’t seem to do much for the average-shmaverage individual, i.e. the healthy 20 to 40 year old, male or female. It’s possible that ALCAR’s benefits still affect younger users, just on too subtle of a level to be felt. My intuition states: ALCAR doesn’t become a nootropic until natural carnitine levels diminish via the natural process of aging (or the unnatural over-consumption of alcohol).
Other forms of carnitine often associate with fat burning (e.g. L-Carnitine L-Tartrate), due to their fatty acid transporter action. For this, I don’t see anything wrong with supplementing carnitine — yet I also don’t believe manufacturers who claim quick, energized focus! based on any carnitine form.
Researchers Have Suggested ALCAR Might:
Improve mild cognitive impairment (MCI)
This meta-analysis of double blind randomized controlled clinical trials assessed the use of ALCAR for cognitive decline, compiling the results of 21 studies, a total of 1204 patients (591 who took ALCAR, 613 on placebo). After reviewing the studies, the researchers found ALCAR to have a significant improvement on attention, mental performance, memory, and higher intellectual functions, leading to the conclusion that “[c]ompared with placebo, Alcar improved mild cognitive impairment or prevented deterioration, and was well tolerated.”
Slow the rate of cognitive deterioration
In this long-term (1-year) study on a decent sample size (130 patients), the oral administration of ALCAR was studied for its effects on function & cognitive impairment. By the end of the year trial, both groups (ALCAR and placebo) worsened, yet the ALCAR group demonstrated a slower rate of deterioration in 13 of the 14 measured outcomes, including the Blessed Dementia Scale, logical intelligence, verbal critical abilities, long-term verbal memory, and selective attention. The conclusion: “The analysis for patients with good treatment [ALCAR] compliance showed a greater drug benefit than for the overall sample. Reported adverse events were relatively mild, and there was no significant difference between the treated and placebo groups either in incidence or severity.”
Counteract symptoms of elderly depression
Placebo-controlled study: 28 elderly patients (aged 70 – 80) affected by DSM III-defined depressive disturbance were subdivided into two groups by administration: 1) 500 mg ALCAR 3 times daily, 2) placebo. Outcomes were measured by the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression, the Beck Depression Inventory, the Sandoz Clinical Assessment–Geriatric, and clinical global impression. By the study’s end, the ALCAR group demonstrated symptom relief on the Hamilton Rating Scale and Beck Depression Inventory, with beneficial behavioral effects. The conclusion: “This investigation establishes that [ALCAR] is effective in counteracting symptoms of depression in the elderly.”
Alleviate alcoholic-induced cognitive problems
Elderly & alcoholics. This study focuses on the latter, evaluating ALCAR’s effects on alcoholic-induced cognitive impairments among 55 alcoholics. Prior to the trial, the patients refrained from alcoholic consumption for a month, after which 2 g ALCAR or placebo was administered daily for 90 days. After the 90-day trial, the ALCAR group demonstrated significant improvement on long-term memory, logical memory, the Similarities WAIS subtest, and the copying drawing test. The researchers concluded that “acetyl-L-carnitine can be a useful and safe therapeutic agent in the subtle cognitive disturbances of chronic alcoholics.”
How to Take ALCAR
- Retail ALCAR dosages range between 250 – 500 mg daily.
- Clinical recommendations aim higher: 500 – 2,000 mg daily.
- Dosages vary by carnitine form (ALCAR, LCLT, GPLC), yet the only carnitine that nootropic enthusiasts need to concern themselves with is ALCAR.
My Experience with ALCAR
I’ve supplemented plenty of ALCAR via various manufactured nootropic stacks, yet I don’t claim to have an “ALCAR Experience.” Namely because I don’t feel ALCAR.
I’m simply not old enough to require ALCAR’s mitochondrial support.
Granted, I do frequent the drink on the weekends, and often think ALCAR might help my hurt hungover brain (I’ve tried it and, meh… still hungover & hairy) — although, I suspect that ALCAR’s “alcoholic” benefits only apply to, well… true alcoholics. Admittedly, there aren’t many ALCAR customer reviews on this point.
All of this has lead me to question why so many manufacturers include ALCAR in their nootropics, particularly given ALCAR’s:
- A) Limited target audience.
- B) Heavy dosage requirement.
It seems that every company includes this ingredient in their stacks simply because every other company is jumping off that bridge. And I get that: Even I question whether or not it works solely based on its popularity. But frankly, I’m not buying it until I’m an old dipsomaniac.
Is ALCAR a Good Nootropic?
For ye olden folk: Yes.
For ye recovering alcoholics: Yes.
For everyone else? ALCAR is a maybe, potentially operating primarily as a fat burner, and even that’s a contentious, unproven point. Ironically, there’s a decent amount of research on this compound, enough for us to have some sort of bearing on how it affects our health, mentally & physically. As such, we can confidently claim that No, ALCAR does not enhance cognition for everyone, even most of everyone.
Yet, it’s not a bad nootropic to keep on the list for your later years.
Overall ALCAR Nootropic Power Rating