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Cognitive Enhancement

he key study on the "smart nutrient" acetyl-L-carnitine was published in Italy by Lino and colleagues1 in 1992. (Most of the important research on ALC has come from Italian investigators.) The researchers chose 17 healthy subjects between 22 and 27 years of age - ten physically active (played competitive sports regularly) and seven sedentary (didn't exercise regularly). Lino et al gave each of their subjects either ALC (1500 mg/day) or placebo for 30 days. The subjects were tested before and after treatment using a video game-type device designed to evaluate attention levels, eye-hand coordination, and reflexes.

The researchers found that reflex speed was markedly increased in those subjects taking daily doses of 1500 mg of ALC. In addition, these subjects made three to four times fewer errors and finished the required tasks three to four times faster than those taking the placebo. When observed according to their groupings as athletic or sedentary, all were found to have improved response speed at 15 days and further improvement at 30 days. In the athletes, left-hand performance exceeded right hand performance, reversing baseline right-handed superiority. It came as a surprise to researchers that the biggest gain in task-completion time was seen in sedentary subjects. The time needed for sedentaries to exit from a maze was reduced by 43%, in contrast to a 32% reduction for athletes. For controls, improvement was only about 13%. Lino et al reported no adverse effects of ALC in any of the subjects.

Researchers believe that ALC improves cognition by enhancing the activity of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh) and/or increasing neuronal metabolism. It may also work by increasing dopamine activity in the part of the brain where dopamine is produced.2,3


  1. Lino A, Boccia M, Rusconi A, Bellomonte L, Cocuroccia B. Psycho-functional changes in attention and learning under the action of L-acetylcarnitine in 17 young subjects. A pilot study of its use in mental deterioration. Clin Ter (Italy). 1992;140:569-573.
  2. Sershen H, Harsing LJ, Banay-Schwartz M, Hashim A, Ramacci M, Lajtha A. Effect of acetyl-L-carnitine on the dopaminergic system in aging brain. J Neurosci Res. 1991;30:555-559.
  3. Harsing LJ, Sershen H, Toth E, Hashim A, Ramacci M, Lajtha A. Acetyl-L-carnitine releases dopamine in rat corpus striatum: an in vivo microdialysis study. Eur J Pharmacol. 1992;218:117-121.

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