Bladderwrack And Carnitine Weight Loss Supplements

By G Kharchenko


Bladderwrack is rarely used alone as a supplement but is formulated as a support ingredient in various formulations. It is often used in dietary supplement products designed for weight loss, fat burning, enhancing thyroid function, and increasing energy. It is even more common in cosmetic formulations for improving skin tone and health. Like several types of seaweed supplements, bladderwrack is mainly used because of its high iodine content; other reasons include its high trace mineral, fiber, and vitamin B12 content. Thus, there are sound theoretical reasons for including such supplements in the diet.

Iodine is necessary in the production of thyroid hormones by the thyroid gland. Low levels of thyroid hormones are associated with reduced energy levels and weight gain. In some cases, people battling for years to control their weight have eventually come to find their thyroid levels are low; with the help of their doctors, they find a solution possibly for vegetarians who may not consume adequate levels of carnitine or its precursor amino acids (lysine and methionine) in their diets. For general cardioprotective benefits, carnitine supplementation may be beneficial to help maintain blood lipid profiles and promote fatty acid utilization within heart muscle. The benefits of carnitine supplements on “heart strength” in cases of congestive heart failure and in post-myocardial infarction and postsurgical conditions may be enhanced by combination supplementation with coenzyme Q10.


Carnitine is an amino acid found in the diet in meat and dairy products, but it is also synthesized in the liver and kidneys from lysine and methionine. The major function of carnitine is to facilitate the transport and metabolism of long chain fatty acids into the mitochondria for ft oxidation and energy generation. As a dietary supplement, carnitine is marketed to enhance endurance, increase fat metabolism, lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and improve cardiovascular performance (as a general cardioprotective).


Because of the role of carnitine in facilitating fatty acid transport into the mitochondria for ft oxidation, it is possible that elevated carnitine levels would permit a greater or faster transport of fat, leading to increased fat oxidation, which might impact weight loss and/or endurance. A greater reliance on fat for energy might also result in a sparing of muscle glycogen, a reduction of lactic acid production, and a subsequent enhancement of exercise performance. Unfortunately, the existing clinical evidence for a beneficial effect of carnitine supplements in healthy adults is disappointing.

As a weight loss supplement, carnitine does not appear to be particularly effective for either promoting weight loss or enhancing fat burning. For endurance athletes, carnitine supplements are of little value, except Carnitine is thought to be a conditionally essential nutrient for premature infants; evidence points to carnitine supplementation reducing apnea and improving the general metabolic profile of prematurity (O’Donnell et al., 2002). In most cases, however, carnitine is delivered as part of a regimen of total parenteral nutrition to infants housed in neonatal intensive care units, so drawing a direct comparison with daily oral carnitine supplementation for weight loss or fat burning in healthy adults is difficult.

Carnitine supplements (1 g/day for 3-6 months) have been shown to improve muscle strength and subjective measures of vitality, general health, and physical function in patients with end-stage renal failure undergoing hemodialysis (Sloan et al., 1998).

Studies of the role of carnitine as an ergogenic aid have been equivocal, with several trials suggesting a beneficial effect of supplements and others indicating no effect at all. Several early studies suggested an indirect effect of carnitine (2-6 g/day) on endurance performance by showing a reduction in the respiratory exchange ratio, which indicates a greater reliance on fats for energy generation (Huertas et al., 1992).

Other studies have failed to indicate any glycogen-sparing effect of carnitine supplements (6 g/day). It has also been shown that with supplements, although blood carnitine levels go up, the acylenzyme system for fatty acid transport into the mitochondria is not augmented, suggesting that the body sufficiently “loads” enough carnitine into the mitochondrial membrane without the help of dietary supplements. There is some indication that carnitine supplementation may help to accelerate recovery following exhaustive exercise (Volek et al., 2002) an effect that could translate into an eventual ergogenic benefit in athletes training or competing over multiday events where postexercise recovery becomes a limiting factor.

In terms of weight loss, the very low calorie diets (less than 800 calories per day) used for intensive obesity treatment have been shown to result in lower levels of carnitine in the blood and tissues, possibly owing to an increase in carnitine excretion (Davis et al., 1990). Because carnitine transports fatty acids into mitochondria for oxidation, any reduction in carnitine status in people trying to lose weight may be viewed as detrimental. A double-blind investigation (Villani et al., 2000) tested the weight loss effects of carnitine in 36 moderately overweight women over 2 months (18 received 4 g/day of carnitine, and 18 received placebo).

Subjects also completed 30 minutes of walking exercise (60-70% of maximum heart rate) 4 days/week. Results indicated no significant changes in body weight, fat mass, or the amount of fat oxidation at either rest or during exercise, suggesting that carnitine may not be particularly effective for promoting weight loss.

Supporting the beneficial role of carnitine supplements, however, are studies in kidney dialysis patients showing that low carnitine levels in the dialysate can lead to elevated levels of blood lipids. Likewise, studies of heart disease patients have shown that carnitine supplements (2 g/ day over 6 months) can reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Perhaps the most convincing data on the benefits of carnitine as a dietary supplement come from several studies of patients with heart disease. Among persons who had suffered a heart attack, carnitine supplements (2-3 g/ day over 4-8 weeks) resulted in a reduction in the amount of damage to the heart muscle and an increase in heart muscle viability (Pichard et al, 1989). Among those suffering from angina (chest pain), carnitine reduces the incidence of angina and cardiac arrhythmias as well as reduces the need for antiangina and antiarrhythmic medications. In addition, carnitine (2 g/day for 6 months) can also increase exercise tolerance in patients with angina, meaning that they can exercise longer and at higher levels before experiencing chest pain.

The available data suggest that although the ergogenic benefits of carnitine supplements for endurance athletes are probably unfounded, or at least hard to measure, the benefits in terms of heart function and blood lipid maintenance are interesting. Under conditions in which the heart muscle is deprived of oxygen (i.e., heart attack and angina), fat breakdown and energy production are reduced. It also appears that carnitine concentrations may be somewhat reduced in cardiac cells undergoing such stress (Pichard et al., 1988). Supplemental levels of carnitine may help replenish the lost carnitine and facilitate a return to adequate levels of fatty acid transport and energy production in the heart muscle.

Doses of 2-6 g/day over 6 months have been studied with no observed adverse side effects. Doses of 2-6 g/day are typically recommended for cardiovascular, sports performance, and weight loss benefits, although the effectiveness of any dose of carnitine for sports or weight loss effects are not impressive. As a “heart health” nutrient, approximately 2 g/day of carnitine may provide some benefits in terms of promoting general heart function.

About the Author: Georgiy Kharchenko, selling:





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