A new study co-authored by prominent supplement researchers concludes the popular sports supplement beta-alanine could have benefits for older adults experiencing cognitive decline and depression.
The amino acid beta-alanine has been immensely popular among lifters and athletes for years, and it is a common ingredient in pre-workout supplement blends. It has been shown in numerous studies to delay muscular fatigue during high-intensity training, which can contribute to greater athletic performance and muscle gain, among other benefits.
Other studies have looked at beta-alanine’s physical impact on aging populations, but this was the first of its kind to study the impact on cognitive markers. It was also the first study to utilize a low-dose, sustained-release version of the supplement.
Improved cognition, reduced depression for seniors
The study, which was published in the journal Nutrients in January, listed among its co-authors Ishay Ostfelt, M.D., and Jay Hoffman, Ph.D. These two researchers have collectively authored dozens of studies on beta-alanine, including most of the foundational research into the athletic applications of the supplement.
Hoffman spoke via email with Natural Products Insider about this particular study, which he said was “very exciting” and showed several promising new prospects for beta-alanine research.
The research focused on 100 sedentary Israeli adults between the ages of 60 and 80, none of whom had been diagnosed with dementia or were suffering from neurocognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. After an initial physical and cognitive screening, subjects were given either a placebo, or two daily doses of SR CarnoSyn, the popular patented version of beta-alanine owned by Natural Alternatives International Inc. (NAI), a manufacturer of nutritional supplements.
After 10 weeks, certain populations showed notable benefits. Those subjects whose cognitive scores were at or below the baseline showed significant improvements in cognitive function. And overall, subjects who took beta-alanine showed significant improvement in their scores on a geriatric depression scale. Subjects didn’t experience any notable physical benefits.
“When we looked at the subject population in its entirety, no benefits were noted,” Hoffman said. “However, when we examined the older adults, whose cognitive function was on the threshold of normal or below, then beta-alanine supplementation was significantly beneficial for improving cognitive function. This was the most promising aspect of the study.”
A new beta-alanine dose for ‘healthy aging’
Experienced beta-alanine users examining the study might immediately notice the unique dosing in the study: 2.4 grams daily, split into two extended-release doses of 1.2 grams.
This is right around or slightly below the 2- to 3-gram doses that consumers find in pre-workouts and other athletic-focused supplements containing beta-alanine. But tellingly, it’s also well below the 4- to 6-gram daily “loading dose” recommended in the International Society of Sports Nutrition’s position statement on beta-alanine, co-authored by Hoffman and several others.
Hoffman said he initially would have preferred a higher dose, but “it turns out this was the right choice,” for several reasons. For starters, seniors didn’t enjoy taking the large 1-gram pills that are standard in beta-alanine research. However, they didn’t mind taking two smaller 600-milligram SR (sustained release) CarnoSyn pills, the first time this dose was used in research.
The lower dose of beta-alanine administered to study participants benefited them for another reason. High-dose beta-alanine often causes a tingling sensation called “paresthesia” around the face and ears. This side effect is temporary and harmless, but athletes can attest that it can be intense in the short term. “No side effects were noted in any of the participants, including paresthesia,” Hoffman said.
None of this success was a surprise to Mark LeDoux, founder, chairman and CEO of NAI, the maker of the CarnoSyn brands.
“We expect that the smaller tablet and lower efficacious daily dose of 2.4 grams of SR CarnoSyn will be a big hit with the health and wellness market,” LeDoux told Natural Products Insider. “The 600-mg sustained release tablets decrease the intensity and incidence of paresthesia symptoms, and the purposefully shaped and coated tablets are easy to swallow. We are confident that our tablets meet expectations for consumers and for wellness brands looking to create or expand their healthy aging product portfolio.”
More beta-alanine not necessarily better
But the dosing does raise a question. If the seniors had been given the customary higher dose, would they have experienced increased benefits along with increased side effects? On the extreme high end, Hoffman has been involved in studies where young adults were given doses as high as 12 grams per day, which showed some potential to “mitigate the onset of negative mood states” in simulated military exercise.
But, in this case, Hoffman said, upping the dose “would not be a question of working better, but of seeing the results a bit earlier.” However, he did see potential in the idea of two different “levels” of beta-alanine supplementation: one for the brain, and another for the body.
“We may need to examine that,” Hoffman said.
Is beta-alanine the new nootropic?
Because beta-alanine has such a prominent role in sports supplementation, it’s tempting to conclude the findings in this study are applicable to young, healthy adults. But Hoffman says the science doesn’t back this up.
“The nutrient does not provide any ergogenic benefit for improving cognitive function in those adults whose cognitive skills are good,” he said. “I do believe that beta-alanine has very real potential benefits for improvement in cognitive function in older adults who are on the borderline or slightly below normal. However, I also believe one study is not sufficient to make a strong hypothesis a theory. I believe our recent study provided important evidence that beta-alanine has the potential to provide a cognitive benefit and may also improve symptoms of depression.”
‘The tip of the iceberg’
LeDoux says this new study—along with previous ones linking CarnoSyn and beta-alanine to improved exercise capacity and overall physical functionality in elderly subjects—builds a compelling case for the ingredient as an anti-aging powerhouse.
“As a ... component of the creation of carnosine in the body, SR CarnoSyn beta-alanine shows significant potential in enhancing quality of life during the aging process,” LeDoux says. “What our researchers have uncovered regarding improvements to cardio, muscular, mobility and cognitive functions is just the tip of the iceberg of potential deployments of SR CarnoSyn in this significant demographic.”
Hoffman says his next step is to duplicate this study. But in time, he also hopes to explore other ingredients that may have synergistic effects with beta-alanine.
He said one potential combination that “could be easily justified” was creatine monohydrate. This immensely popular sports supplement has shown promise to have both cognitive and anti-aging benefits. Hoffman has also authored studies showing monohydrate to have synergistic athletic benefits with beta-alanine.
“SR CarnoSyn has recently launched two new health and wellness formulas focused on vision and memory,” LeDoux says. “These formulas combine SR CarnoSyn with other science-backed patented ingredients to provide a complimentary effect. Overall, the healthy aging marketplace is a growing segment that needs further research, and I expect to see CarnoSyn brands continue to focus a good deal of time there.”