L-carnosine, or simply carnosine, is an antioxidant compound made up of the amino acids alanine and histidine. Your body produces carnosine, storing it mainly in your skeletal muscles, the lenses of your eyes, and your brain and nervous systems. As we age, levels of carnosine decline. Studies show that carnosine-rich diets and supplementation with high levels of carnosine (about 1000 mg a day) can help keep carnosine concentrations healthy and diseases such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and heart disease at bay.
Carnosine for Blood Sugar Control
Elevated blood sugar levels, particularly excessive spikes in blood glucose after eating a meal, put us at risk for diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. High blood sugar levels also correspond to low levels of carnosine in our muscle tissues, a condition symptomatic of type II diabetes. Studies show that carnosine supplementation may help improve blood sugar control, reduce insulin resistance, and protect against diabetes.
Researches gave obese patients at high risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease either 2000 mg of carnosine or a placebo pill daily for 12 weeks. All patients showed increased insulin resistance at the end of 12 weeks, but the placebo group had 3.8-fold more insulin resistance—36% versus an increase in the carnosine supplementation group of just 3%!
The study also revealed that carnosine-supplementation patients diagnosed with pre-diabetes or “borderline high blood sugar” experienced drops in blood sugar to nondiabetic levels 2 hours after taking a glucose tolerance test, while patients in the placebo group had dramatically higher blood sugar levels of more than 160 mg/dl.
Carnosine for Heart Health
Research has shown that the heart muscle contains high concentrations of carnosine, and that carnosine can help enhance exercise performance. A 2015 study published in the journal Nutrition revealed the heart-protective benefits of carnosine on patients diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Congestive heart failure kicks in when the heart can no longer adequately pump enough blood to satisfy the metabolic needs of tissues in the body. Fifty patients with stable congestive heart failure were treated with either standard congestive heart failure medical treatment or congestive heart failure treatment alongside a daily dose of 500 mg of carnosine daily for 6 months. Patients supplementing with carnosine enjoyed vast improvements in physical condition, quality of life scores, 6-minute walking distance, peak exercise workload, and oxygen delivery to tissues for use during exercise. Patients treated with standard medical treatment alone showed no such gains.
Carnosine also protects against heart-disease conditions by helping to block the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) that damage tissues and impair function, thereby paving the way for inflammation and atherosclerotic plaques to take root, damaging blood vessels, disturbing healthy blood flow, and greatly increasing one’s risk for heart attack or stroke.
Carnosine for Brain Health
By inhibiting the formation of AGEs, carnosine also protects against age-related cognitive impairment and memory loss. A study published in the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics showed that adults 65 years and older who ate a carnosine-rich diet for 13 weeks did significantly better on a variety of brain function and physical fitness tests than did adults receiving a placebo pill for the same amount of time.
Another study showed that 12 weeks of carnosine supplementation at 500 mg, 1000 mg, and 1,500 mg given at increasing doses at 4-week intervals, significantly reduced cognitive dysfunction in veterans suffering from fatigue and pain related to exposure to toxic chemicals during the Gulf War.
Supplementing with Carnosine
Experts recommend supplementing with 1000 mg a day (given twice a day at 500 mg doses) to experience the blood sugar, heart, and brain benefits of carnosine. However, it is always important to seek counsel from your healthcare practitioner before adding a supplement to your nutrition program.
You can also shore up your levels of carnosine by eating a carnosine-rich diet made up of foods high in protein, such as:
- Lean beef
- Fish: yellowfin tuna, chum salmon, swordfish, skipjack, eel
- Vegetarian proteins: avocado, beans, bran, whole grains, brewer’s yeast, brown rice, mushrooms, legumes, corn, nuts, seeds, watercress, sea vegetables (spirulina)