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What Is Carnosine?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 19 April 2014
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Carnosine is a supplement that can be found in many natural foods and health food stores. It is called a dipeptide because it is made by chemically combining two amino acids. These amino acids (histidine and beta-alanine) are present in the human body, often in combined form, in small or large supply. Those people who don’t eat meat tend to have lower levels of this substance than do most meat eaters. The supplement is currently under investigation as potentially beneficial to treat a variety of conditions.

Since carnosine is present in higher amounts in the brain, one proposed use is to give the supplement to people with autism, especially very young people. Studies on this have not been entirely conclusive. Yet in some small trials, use has been suggested because it appears to slightly improve the ease at which the autistic child may use language and better socialize. It should be noted that 2002 study suggesting these benefits has been called in question and it can’t be said that benefits are clearly proven.

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A number of investigations have also pointed to potential anti-aging or antioxidant properties and possibility of increased cardiac health through supplementation. Again, these are by no means proven. Clearer are some of the side effects of carnosine, which can include inducing hyperactivity or allergies. The second side effect doesn’t mean allergy to the supplement. Instead, higher doses of this supplement (above 100 mg) could be problematic because histidine can become histamine in the body. While histamine has been shown to have some potential beneficial effects on Alzheimer’s disease (leading some to research and not yet prove carnosine’s benefits in Alzheimer’s disease) it could also in some sensitive people cause hay fever type reactions or rashes like hives.

Another area of intense study on this supplement’s potential benefits has been on the possibility that carnosine may reduce or help prevent cataracts. In several studies, either drops that contain carnosine or oral supplements have been shown to actually break down cataracts in some people or animals, or to prevent their development. While this research is not extensive enough to be considered as final proof, it is encouraging and may ultimately point the way to treat cataracts without surgery.

Many who review the topic of this supplement suggest vegetarians should especially consider supplementation with this amino acid combination since they don’t get it regularly from diet. There are vegetarian formulas available. There still isn’t evidence that such a recommendation needs to be followed. It’s also unclear how safe carnosine is if used all the time. Thus far it’s not recommended for pregnant or nursing women and all people considering taking this substance should first discuss the matter with a general physician.

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