Carnosine is a dipeptide that is a derivative of the supplement known as beta-alanine.
When saturated in the muscle, carnosine acts as a buffer to hydrogen ions, the main culprit behind muscle fatigue and the “burn” during higher intensity exercise. Essentially, carnosine allows for a reduction of hydrogen in the blood, allowing you to continue at higher intensities, for longer periods of time.
But it’s important to know that the benefit doesn’t stop there. Research is revealing that carnosine may be a powerful antioxidant that can potentially improve health and even extend life.
In this article, I’ll touch on 5 of the most compelling benefits of carnosine and why you should consider taking it.
What Is Carnosine & How Does It Work?
Carnosine is what is known as a dipeptide molecule, since it’s comprised of two different molecules, namely beta-alanine and histidine. Carnosine is a molecule, which is found primarily in muscle and also the brain.
Typically, muscle carnosine levels are increased via consumption of meat rich in the molecule or otherwise by taking beta-alanine, as it’s a precursor to carnosine. However, it’s important to remember that you can cut out the middleman by simply consuming a carnosine-based supplement.
While we’ll touch on this in greater detail, the most apparent usage for carnosine is to improve athletic performance, specifically for higher intensity athletes.
See, carnosine acts as what is known as an acid buffer. Our body has a certain acidity level known as pH, which is a scale that allows us to understand the level of acidity or alkalinity in the body.
This scale is quite important since this level of acidity is tightly regulated. If acidity increases and thus, pH decreases (this scale is inverted), that’s a good indication that something isn’t right. For example, pH typically decreases in the presence of cancer, due to something known as anaerobic fermentation.
Interestingly, when you workout, you also may experience a dip in pH due to a large amount of hydrogen ion build up, a product of breaking down ATP rapidly for energy.
When hydrogen ions accumulate in the muscle, this creates that “burning” feeling and results in fatigue. Carnosine’s main purpose is to take that acid and neutralize or buffer it to bring pH back down to normal. Theoretically, this should allow for prolonged activity at higher intensities.
Essentially, when you exercise, hydrogen builds up and causes fatigue. If your muscle is saturated with carnosine, this molecule will reduce the acidity, allowing for longer durations of movement or exercise.
However, as you’ll see carnosine’s benefits extend much further than that.
Muscular Endurance & Sprint Ability
First and foremost for performance, studies have indicated that by supplementing with beta-alanine and thus, maximizing muscle storage of carnosine, this translates to an increase of performance for shorter duration, higher intensity activities.
Essentially, the carnosine allows for faster buffering of metabolic byproducts, which are a result of higher intensity exercise.
Additionally, other studies have actually indicated that by saturating muscle with carnosine, even very experienced athletes were able to double muscle mass gains compared to a placebo group (1).
Theoretically, this should be fairly standard. If carnosine allows for longer durations of training at a higher intensity, we would expect the growth process to be expedited compared to not taking the supplement at all. Thus, it stands to reason that supplementing with carnosine would be advantageous for literally any athlete. By limiting the build up of hydrogen ions, you can essentially increase the intensity that you perform at and do it for longer periods of time, while avoiding fatigue.
Carnosine May Be Anti-ageing
In addition to specific performance enhancement, carnosine has actually been postulated to act as an anti-ageing supplement. It’s thought that carnosine’s primary anti-ageing properties work through limiting a process known as telomere shortening (2, 3, 4).
As we age, cells divide, die and grow for a number of different reasons. Interestingly, the data of which the information needed to actually synthesize new cells fit your body is stored in your DNA.
Essentially, telomeres are the end parts of chromosomes, which are used to create new cells as we age. Over time however, these telomeres get shorter and shorter since some of telomeres are used during the DNA replication process.
It is thus thought that one of the reasons for death at old age is that the telomeres have been exhausted, meaning cells can no longer replicate and you die.
Overall, it’s thought that a reduction in the rate of this telomere shortening may come as a result of carnosine supplementation and thus, may allow for some anti-ageing properties.
Carnosine May Fix Mitochondrial Dysfunction
Mitochondria are often considered to be the powerhouse of the cell. Really, that’s because it is.
Mitochondria are organelles, which are located in almost all tissue, that allow for a steady production of energy through a process known as oxidative phosphorylation. Interestingly, increasing the amount of mitochondria per unit of muscle is one the number one adaptations of endurance training.
Since endurance athletes rely heavily on aerobic energy production, more mitochondria means this process is more efficient.
Unfortunately, mitochondria can dysfunction and also lead to disease states. In fact, one of the leading theories behind some cancers is dysfunction of mitochondria where a process known as anaerobic fermentation occurs, despite having oxygen available. While that may sound complicated, it simply means that the mitochondria aren’t working correctly and can lead to the progression of cells that happen to be cancerous (5).
Interestingly, one study showed that carnosine’s antioxidant properties may help reverse this mitochondrial dysfunction, at least when given to mice. Essentially, using carnosine may help to remove the mitochondrial dysfunction part of disease states, which may improve symptoms or potentially even prevent it (6).
While this may be an animal study, it’s quite possible that similar benefit may be observed in humans.
Carnosine May Improve Your Memory & Brain Health
Interestingly, studies have suggested that carnosine supplementation may improve memory due to it’s potential anti-oxidant effects.
Interestingly, research indicates that carnosine may induce what is known as neurogenesis or the creation or new brain cells that transmit information. Essentially, it allows for growth of the brain, providing more resources for processing and memory (7).
Lastly, a major theory of depression is a reduction of factors that promote neurogenesis. Thus, carnosine may theoretically be an ingredient to use alongside treatment for depression. Surely that’s not confirmed but at least a possibility based on the current evidence (8).
Carnosine May Prevent Or Treat Bone Loss
It’s no mystery that bone degradation is one of the biggest issues many women face with age. Fortunately, there is some evidence that carnosine might be able to help.
In fact, one study indicated that by supplementing with beta-alanine (precursor to carnosine), this resulted in a reduced rate of bone mineral density decline. Essentially, it allowed bones to stay stronger for longer (9, 10).
Based on these findings, it’s safe to say that supplementing with carnosine in addition to a sound exercise protocol may be an effective treatment or preventative measure for age-related bone loss.
5 Benefits Of Carnosine On Health & Performance
Carnosine, a dipeptide built from beta-alanine is a relatively unknown supplement, yet one that you should be using.
In addition to it’s powerful performance enhancing benefits, carnosine also appears to be a powerful anti-oxidant and anti-ageing molecule that you should consider incorporating into your own life not just for the performance benefit, but also its potential life-extending properties.
1) Kern, B. D., & Robinson, T. L. (2011). Effects of β-alanine supplementation on performance and body composition in collegiate wrestlers and football players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 25(7), 1804-1815.
2) McFarland, G. A., & Holliday, R. (1994). Retardation of the senescence of cultured human diploid fibroblasts by carnosine. Experimental cell research, 212(2), 167-175.
3) McFarland, G. A., & Holliday, R. (1999). Further evidence for the rejuvenating effects of the dipeptide L-carnosine on cultured human diploid fibroblasts. Experimental gerontology, 34(1), 35-45.
4) Shao, L., Li, Q. H., & Tan, Z. (2004). L-carnosine reduces telomere damage and shortening rate in cultured normal fibroblasts. Biochemical and biophysical research communications, 324(2), 931-936.
5) Scatena, R. (2012). Mitochondria and cancer: a growing role in apoptosis, cancer cell metabolism and dedifferentiation. In Advances in Mitochondrial Medicine (pp. 287-308). Springer Netherlands.
6) Corona, C., Frazzini, V., Silvestri, E., Lattanzio, R., La Sorda, R., Piantelli, M., ... & Sensi, S. L. (2011). Effects of dietary supplementation of carnosine on mitochondrial dysfunction, amyloid pathology, and cognitive deficits in 3xTg-AD mice. PloS one, 6(3), e17971.
7) Acosta, S., Jernberg, J., Sanberg, C. D., Sanberg, P. R., Small, B. J., Gemma, C., & Bickford, P. C. (2010). NT-020, a natural therapeutic approach to optimize spatial memory performance and increase neural progenitor cell proliferation and decrease inflammation in the aged rat. Rejuvenation research, 13(5), 581-588.
8) Brunoni, A. R., Lopes, M., & Fregni, F. (2008). A systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical studies on major depression and BDNF levels: implications for the role of neuroplasticity in depression. International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 11(8), 1169-1180.
9) KISHI, S., SEGAWA, Y., & YAMAGUCHI, M. (1994). Histomorphological confirmation of the preventive effect of β-alanyl-L-histidinato zinc on bone loss in ovariectomized rats. Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin, 17(6), 862-865.