Carnosine is the simplest form of a dipeptide - the combination of two amino acids - consisting of alanine and histidine. These proteins are part of our normal diet and come mainly from animal products. The largest amounts are found in chicken, turkey and tuna. For example, a classic chicken soup could increase carnosine levels and at the same time curb the growth of viruses.
Throughout the animal kingdom, there are several related forms of histidine-containing molecules that are said to have similar functions. Interestingly, almost all mammals have at least two of these substances in their cells. Humans, for some reason, have only one, carnosine. This exists mainly in the human brain and in our muscles.
What does carnosine do? - Small but mighty
Numerous exciting studies have already been carried out with carnosine. Scientists found that carnosine binds and thus eliminates harmful substances through chelation, i.e. complex formation. Likewise, the assumption that carnosine serves as a buffering agent in our muscles proved to be a solid finding. Put simply, it acts like a sponge that absorbs the acidic end products of muscle contraction during exercise. This protects the muscles from overtiredness, strengthens their function and prevents possible strength failure.
Carnosine also improved wound healing in experiments and attracted attention in ophthalmology by increasing vision.
Carnosine as a longevity agent
On the one hand, the molecule contributes to a reduced telomere shortening. To repeat: telomeres are the protective caps at the ends of chromosomes in our genome, which shorten over time. Shortened telomeres are a sign of ageing (here go to the corresponding article).
On the other hand, carnosine is a strong scavenger of reactive oxygen and nitrogen. These free radicals are by-products of mitochondrial activity and are partly responsible for the ageing process.
Carnosine has another longevity ace up its sleeve, however, and that has to do with Advanced Glycation Endproducts.
Advanced Glycation Endproducts (AGE)
Let's take a look at our favorite sweetener and valuable energy supplier, sugar. As is generally known, too much of it is unhealthy. Among other things, this is due to the fact that glucose is sticky. Both in the form of a lollipop and in its molecular structure. Glucose sticks to pretty much everything it comes in contact with in the body. From proteins to fats to DNA. When it sticks, it creates distorted, harmful molecules that have lost their original function. In technical jargon, these molecules are called 'Advanced Glycation Endproducts' or AGE for short. This loss of activity is particularly problematic for proteins and has a negative impact on all aspects of cellular life.
What sounds quite theoretical at first can also be illustrated a little more clearly: the most important proteins that ensure the structural integrity of our tissue include collagen and elastin. You can imagine the two molecules as a piece of fabric with fibres woven into it. As a fabric coat, the proteins form an essential part of our skin, bones and the wall of blood vessels. There, they adapt to natural conditions and provide strength with simultaneous flexibility. Sounds paradoxical, but it is indispensable in a healthy body.
However, if you accidentally put a drop of super glue on the piece of fabric, the fibres can no longer slide over each other. Instead, their elasticity is lost and they break. This is exactly what happens when we age, so the super glue glucose drips onto our proteins. The beautiful smooth skin becomes flabby and elastic blood vessels turn into steel tubes. The consequences are wrinkles, arteriosclerosis and high blood pressure.
The formula of ageing can be derived as follows: The more AGEs you have, the older you have become.
So what does carnosine have to do with it?
From rescue service to time machine
In studies, carnosine was found to block about a dozen intermediate steps in the formation of AGEs. While study after study confirmed this ability, there is even evidence that the proteins that have already been damaged and thus put out of action can be rescued. The formation of the waste products, originally thought to be irreversible, is apparently reversible after all. So, from the point of view of our collagen connective tissue, we can actually turn back the clock! However, in order to understand the mechanisms behind this effect more precisely, some experiments still need to be carried out.
The modern diet provides an inadequate daily intake of carnosine (only 50-250 mg, depending on the exact diet), whereas biological effects would require at least 500-3500 mg. Since carnosine is predominantly found in animal foods, there has been a call for animal-free alternatives.
Most carnosine sold today is in powder form. MoleQlar® Carnosine is naturally derived and has no animal origin. This makes the product vegan and vegetarian friendly.
Carnosine in powder form is a water-soluble molecule. This means that you don't necessarily have to take it with a meal. The most sensible and effective option is to add the powder to a glass of water and then drink it. The taste is most likely slightly sweet, but not at all unpleasant - rather tasteless. An amount of 1 gram per day has been found safe in studies.
Budzeń, S., & Rymaszewska, J. (2013). The biological role of carnosine and its possible applications in medicine. Advances in clinical and experimental medicine: official organ. Wroclaw Medical University, 22(5), 739-744. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24285460/
Menon, K., Mousa, A., & de Courten, B. (2018). Effects of supplementation with carnosine and other histidine-containing dipeptides on chronic disease risk factors and outcomes: protocol for a systematic review of randomised controlled trials. BMJ open, 8(3), e020623. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2017-020623
Schön, M., Mousa, A., Berk, M., Chia, W. L., Ukropec, J., Majid, A., Ukropcová, B., & de Courten, B. (2019). The Potential of Carnosine in Brain-Related Disorders: A Comprehensive Review of Current Evidence. Nutrients, 11(6), 1196. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11061196
Boldyrev, A. A., Aldini, G., & Derave, W. (2013). Physiology and pathophysiology of carnosine. Physiological reviews, 93(4), 1803-1845. https://doi.org/10.1152/physrev.00039.2012
Baye, E., Ukropcova, B., Ukropec, J., Hipkiss, A., Aldini, G., & de Courten, B. (2016). Physiological and therapeutic effects of carnosine on cardiometabolic risk and disease. Amino acids, 48(5), 1131-1149. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00726-016-2208-1
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