The Lack of One Simple Molecule Could Explain Why Millions of People Worldwide Suffer From Depression

By August 1, 2018 Depression, Science

Depression is a very serious mental illness that affects about 300 million people across the globe, at least 16 million of those being in the United States. Chances are, if you aren’t someone who suffers from depression you know at the very least one person close to you who is.

Now, while we do think we know what sets people with depression apart from the rest when it comes to boiling things down things get a bit confusing. There are tons of different factors and lots of things that make up depression. No two cases of depression are exactly the same, right?

Well, more recent medical research seems to suggest that people with some of the worst cases of depression have some of the lowest blood levels of something known as acetyl-L-carnitine. For those who do not know acetyl-L-carnitine is something that our bodies produce naturally and it is very important when it comes to metabolizing things like fat as well as producing energy. If you think you might not be producing enough, supplements might be in your best interests.

Plenty of research has been building over the past few years in regards to this link between acetyl-L-carnitine and depression. The research mentioned above was carried out by Carla Nasca from Rockefeller University on rodents. It seems that just within days upping their amounts of this molecule was able to provide them with fast-acting antidepressant effects. From there they tried this on humans and the results were shocking.

The abstract of this study on humans goes as follows:

The lack of biomarkers to identify target populations greatly limits the promise of precision medicine for major depressive disorder (MDD), a primary cause of ill health and disability. The endogenously produced molecule acetyl-L-carnitine (LAC) is critical for hippocampal function and several behavioral domains. In rodents with depressive-like traits, LAC levels are markedly decreased and signal abnormal hippocampal glutamatergic function and dendritic plasticity. LAC supplementation induces rapid and lasting antidepressant-like effects via epigenetic mechanisms of histone acetylation. This mechanistic model led us to evaluate LAC levels in humans. We found that LAC levels, and not those of free carnitine, were decreased in patients with MDD compared with age- and sex-matched healthy controls in two independent study centers. Secondary exploratory analyses showed that the degree of LAC deficiency reflected both the severity and age of onset of MDD. Moreover, these analyses showed that the decrease in LAC was larger in patients with a history of treatment-resistant depression (TRD), among whom childhood trauma and, specifically, a history of emotional neglect and being female, predicted the decreased LAC. These findings suggest that LAC may serve as a candidate biomarker to help diagnose a clinical endophenotype of MDD characterized by decreased LAC, greater severity, and earlier onset as well as a history of childhood trauma in patients with TRD. Together with studies in rodents, these translational findings support further exploration of LAC as a therapeutic target that may help to define individualized treatments in biologically based depression subtype consistent with the spirit of precision medicine.

This is significantly important as it really does help us get a better look inside the mental illness that is depression. It can help us work through it in many more cases and give much more proper medications in regards. This is clearly a very important biomarker of major depressive disorder and something needs to be worked out through it. While more research will, of course, need to be carried out in regards to dosing, usage, and so forth but this is a very interesting find. What do you think about all of this?

Image via Inverse


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