Carnosine has been around a long time, but is currently a fashionable anti-ageing ingredient because of its supposed role in inhibiting glycation which I have previously blogged about. I came to the conclusion that it was a nice theory, but while it is quite likely to work there really isn’t much hard data to support it yet. But I thought it deserved its own blog post if for no other reason than that people might well be looking for information about it. First off, what is it? The molecule is jam packed with fun functional groups. You’ve got a carboxylic acid, a primary and a secondary amine, a ketone and most special of all a pyrazole ring at the end. (I had to look that one up to check the spelling.) Or that is how an organic chemist would look at it. A biochemist would be less impressed, pointing out that it is simply a dipeptide formed of two amino acids alanine and histidine.
But enough flagrant geekery, what does it do? Quite apart from its use in skin creams it is also quite popular as a nutritional supplement. This is quite likely to be a waste of money. There is plenty of it already in food, and our body is quite capable of making it when it needs from any source of protein. The rationale is its antioxidant properties, and maybe there is some mild benefit to that.
So does the published scientific literature on the use of carnosine as an anti-ageing supplement encourage us to believe?
This is certainly a well studied material. There are hundreds of papers looking at various aspects of its biochemistry. To quote one very recent one, for no better reason than it appeared at the top of the search I did because it was the last one published, there is some evidence that carnosine might reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Another very recent study showed that a supplement containing carnosine, amongst some other things, improved their cognition.
A whole pile of papers on carnosine were published in Biochemistry in 2000 covering a whole stack of beneficial effects. There doesn’t seem to be much doubt that carnosine is one of the tools the body uses to protect itself from oxidative damage. What hasn’t been done as far as I can tell, is a large scale trial of the effects of taking carnosine on general health.
Until that is done, we can’t really be sure that it really does very much to boost well being to add more carnosine to the stuff that is there already. But it would good if it did, so lets hope.
Rejuvenation Res. 2014 Feb;17(1):27-32. Nutraceutical intervention improves older adults’ cognitive functioning. Small BJ, Rawson KS, Martin C, Eisel SL, Sanberg CD, McEvoy CL, Sanberg PR, Shytle RD, Tan J, Bickford PC.