Monday, February 18, 2008

Have Scientists Discovered a Diabetic Fat Burner? R-Lipoic Acid and L-Carnitine as Fat-Burners for Diabetics

If there's anything diabetics all over the world can agree on, it's that it's nearly impossible to lose weight while keeping blood sugars in check.

The problem for diabetics has become even worse since the late 1990's and the introduction of thiazolidinediones (TZDs), a class of drugs that includes commonly prescribed drugs like Actos (pioglitazone) and Avandia (rosiglitazone).

TZDs are terrific for lowering blood sugars. The problem is, they do this by stimulating molecule called PPAR-gamma. PPAR-gamma makes insulin far more efficient at taking glucose out of the blood stream so it can be stored in fat. Unfortunately, it also makes the same fat cells more efficient at storing fatty acids, and it even encourages the transformation of bone and heart cells into fat cells, contributing to, as you might imagine, osteoporosis and congestive heart failure.

What diabetics need is something that takes glucose out of the bloodstream without increasing the size or number of fat cells. And a research team working out of the University of California at Irvine and Shanghai's Institutes of Biological Sciences may have found it in lipoic acid and L-carnitine.

As most diabetics know, lipoic acid, usually taken in the form alpha-lipoic acid, reduces the rate at which hemoglobin combines with glucose in the bloodstream to form glycated hemoglobin, or HbA1C.

Alpha-lipoic acid isn't actually the best form of lipoic acid for diabetes. Alpha-lipoic acid is a mixture of two isomers, only one of which, R-lipoic acid, is readily available to the body. The body can sort the R-lipoic acid out of alpha-lipoic acid, however, so about 50 per cent of the relatively inexpensive alpha-lipoic acid does a diabetic good.

L-carnitine is better known by body builders. There's a growing body of evidence, however, that up to 2,000 mg of L-carnitine a day might protect diabetic brain tissue.

And it was brain researchers who discovered the application of the combination of these two supplements in burning fat.

Since this was a relatively preliminary study, the researchers took fat cells from lab rats and cultivated them under "test tube" conditions to see how they would react to lipoic acid and L-carnitine used singly and together.

Fat cells didn't respond very much to either lipoic acid or L-carnitine used without the other. When the fat cells were exposed to a combination of R-lipoic acid and L-carnitine, however, some astonishing things happened:

  • The mitochondria, or energy makers of the cell, began to activate their DNA so they could grow.
  • Larger mitochondria took up more oxygen so they could in turn
  • Burn more glucose and fatty acids.

And the combination of antioxidants had another interesting effect. Like the well-known TZDs, they increased the activity of PPAR-gamma. They stimulated the fat cells' ability to clear glucose and fatty acids out of the bloodstream (or, in this case, the cell culture medium).

What was different from Actos and Avandia, however, is the fact that these fat cells not only could take up more glucose and fatty acids, they burned them instead of stored them. This experiment seems to suggest that possibly diabetics, in particular, could benefit from lower blood sugars (as they already do with high levels of lipoic acid supplementation) as well as increased metabolism and lower weight, if lipoic acid and L-carnitine are taken together.

If you decide to give this supplement combination a try, remember that lipoic acid depletes biotin. Be sure to take 125 micrograms of biotin for every 200 mg of lipoic acid. Also, be sure to tell your doctor you're taking the supplements. While lipoic acid protects you against some of the effects of high blood sugars, notably in the nerves and heart, it also masks long-term high blood sugars as measured by HbA1C.

No one knows how many pounds this combination might help you lose--but please note your results in the comments section here.

You may also be interested in:

Acupressure (TAPAS) for Weight Control
Dieters: Can You Eat All the Foods You Love and Still Lose Weight?
The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Diabetics
Effects of High Blood Sugars on the Immune System
Dieters: Can You Eat All the Foods You Love and Still Lose Weight?
How Teens with Type 2 Diabetes Can Lose Fat and Gain Muscle
When It's Better for Diabetics to Be Couch Potatoes
Are Sugar-Free Candies and Deserts for Diabetics Really Sugar-Free (And What to Do When They Are Not)
Is an All-Natural Way to Cleanse the Colon Good for Diabetics?
What Doctors Don't Tell Diabetics About Fats and Carbs
What Doctors Don't Tell Diabetics About LDL Numbers
Can Drinking Decaf Speciality Coffee Prevent Diabetes?
What's This About Caffeine Raising Blood Sugar Levels?
A New Ayurvedic Herb for Diabetes?
Have Scientists Discovered a Diabetic Fat-Burner?
Vinegar for Type II Diabetes
Reduce Risk of Diabetes by Eating Veggies
Chromium for Diabetes
Vitamin C for Diabetes
Vitamin D for Diabetes
Vitamin E for Diabetes
Vitamin E for Diabetes: How Much Is Too Much?
DHEA and Diabetes
Diet, Diabetes, and Gum Disease
To Prevent Diabetes, Low-Carb Is Better than Low-Fat
R-Lipoic Acid and Acetyl-L-Carnitine as Fat Burners for Diabetes
Signs of Diabetes in Youths and Adults

Authors: W. Shen, K. Liu, C. Tian, L. Yang, X. Li, J. Ren, L. Packer, C.W. Cotman, J. Liu. R-alpha-Lipoic acid and acetyl-L-carnitine complementarily promote mitochondrial biogenesis in murine 3T3-L1 adipocytes.Diabetologia
2008, Volume 51, Pages 165-174, doi: 10.1007/s00125-007-0852-4.


  1. Thanks for the information. But is the study referring to using regular L-Carnitine or Acetyl L-Carnitine? I notice in your references that Acetyl L-Carnitine was cited; but in your article itself there was no mention of Acetyl L-Carnitine. Or does it make no difference which form is consumed?

    Also, if one is already on a regular Alpha Lipoic Acid regimen, does the dosage need to be reduced due to the addition of R-Lipoic Acid? Some web sites that sell R-Lipoic Acid claims that one serving of it is equivalent to 3 servings of regular ALA -- or is it really not necessary to use the (substantially more expensive) R-Lipoic Acid, but rather just stay on ALA but add L-Carnitine instead?

  2. Thanks for your insightful comment.

    Answering your questions in reverse, if you're already on an alpha-lipoic acid regime you're already getting R-lipoic acid, that is, about half of the mixed isomers in generic alpha-lipoic acid is R-lipoic acid. (The "3 times the ALA" claim is a stretch, but not a big stretch. It's more like 1.5-3.)

    Regarding L-carnitine/acetyl-L-carnitine, yes, you're right, it does make a difference which form is consumed, but the difference cuts both ways. The acetyl group in acetyl-L-carnitine can be used by the cell to make energy (in the Krebs cycle). This doesn't encourage the "wasting" of energy that leads to fat loss. On the other hand, acetyl-L-carnitine protects the cardiolipin "glue" in the mitochondria, keeping them running, so to speak, in ways L-carnitine does not. And acetyl-L-carnitine is better absorbed.

    So which to use?

    Preferably, acetyl-L-carnitine. That's what this study supports. Other studies, however, have found that supplementation with the non-acetylated L-carnitine also accelerates disposal of glucose taken into fat cells, and that supplementation of "plain" L-carnitine also increases the body's supply of acetyl-L-carnitine even without supplementation of the acetylated form.


    If I were experimenting with this (and I am, lost 6.2 pounds in seven weeks without calorie restriction, no, I'm not posting how I much I weighed seven weeks ago), I'd stick with the cheaper ALA and plain old L-carnitine. Don't forget the biotin with ALA, however. Hope this helps, let me know if you try it and it works. Thanks for two really good questions.

  3. Thank you very much for the explanations. I find it very interesting that while looking at the labels at my local Vitamin Shoppe, the Acetyl L-Carnitine is touted as supporting brain functions, and L-Carnitine is for promoting fat metabolism; yet combining Acetyl L-Carnitine with ALA can possibly arriving at both goals -- almost making regular L-Carnitine unnessary...

    I am definitely going to experiment with this combination and see how well they work. Although to be honest, I will also be trying out the decaf ECGC dosage per your Green Tea articles; so I am not sure how scientifically accurate if I do achieve weight loss results. :-)

    And thank you for the reminder about Biotin -- I have been on ALA for several weeks now, and never knew about the ALA/Biotin connection until I read your blog. I really appreciate your attention to detail! Please keep up the good work.