Research show that acetyl-L-carnitine may improve symptoms of depression

It’s not just the body that changes with age, the mind does it as well. Older adults become prone to a wide range of mental and neurological conditions, not the least of which is depression. According to a study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicinesupplementing with acetyl-L-carnitine may help reduce the symptoms of depression as effectively as anti-depressant medication.

The brain undergoes many changes with age, many of which increase the risk of conditions like Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Shifts in the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, particularly, that of serotonin and norepinephrine, influence the development of depression in elderly adults (called geriatric depression). The condition, however, may result from outside factors as well.

Traumatic experiences, including abuse and the loss of friends and relatives, can lead to geriatric depression. Other triggers may include retirement and sudden changes in their daily routine, limited mobility, isolation, financial difficulties, chronic medical conditions, or even long-term substance abuse. Thoughts of their impending mortality may also trigger the condition.

Depression is older adults typically start out as subsyndromal depression, a type of condition that doesn’t always meet the full set of criteria that defines major depression. If left untreated, however, subsyndromal depression can graduate to major depression.

Chemical antidepressants, such as duloxetine and fluoxetine, are often used to treat depression in the elderly. Unfortunately, antidepressants are known to cause a variety of symptoms, including nausea, migraine, sleep disturbances, weight gain, erectile dysfunction, and loss of sexual desire. In some cases, antidepressants also lead to an increased risk of patients committing suicide.

Acetyl-L-carnitine is an amino acid that the body produces naturally. It is also found in red meats and other types of animal protein. As a nootropic, it can improve mood, memory, and learning. Acetyl-L-carnitine is a member of the acetyl group, a class of molecules that easily passes through the blood-brain barrier, allowing them to reach the brain and nerves and exert their effects.

There have been suspicions that a deficiency in acetyl-L-carnitine increases the risk of depression, but data on the supplementation of the amino acid on humans are limited. The authors, therefore, conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis investigating the effect of acetyl-L-carnitine on symptoms of depression.

In conducting their search, the authors used all major databases and scoured for studies from the sources’ inception until December 2016. Only randomized controlled trials were included, either of acetyl-L-carnitine alone or in combination with antidepressant medications.

Ultimately, the review analyzed a total of 12 randomized controlled trials with a total of 791 participants with a mean age of 54 and 65 percent of which were females. In nine of the studies, acetyl-L-carnitine “significantly reduced” depressive symptoms.

Three studies compared the effects of acetyl-L-carnitine and antidepressants. These established that acetyl-L-carnitine had comparable effects with antidepressants but caused fewer side effects. The authors noted that supplementation was more effective in older adults.

Because of these findings, the researchers concluded that supplementation with acetyl-L-carnitine decreases the symptoms of depression compared to placebos or no intervention at all. They recommended large-scale trials to either refute or confirm their findings. (Related: What are some the best nootropic supplements out there? We’ve listed 5 of the safest (and most natural) ones.)

Symptoms of geriatric depression

The symptoms of geriatric depression are similar to those of depression in other age groups. These can include:

  • Sadness
  • Irritability
  • Feeling of worthlessness
  • Troubles with sleep
  • Appetite changes
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Fatigue
  • Physical aches and pains that cannot be explained by other medical conditions

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