People with depression have low blood levels of a substance called acetyl-L-carnitine, according to a Stanford University School of Medicine scientist and her collaborators in a multicenter study.
Naturally produced in the body, acetyl-L-carnitine is also widely available in drugstores, supermarkets and health food catalogs as a nutritional supplement.
People with severe or treatment-resistant depression, or whose bouts of depression began earlier in life, have particularly low blood levels of the substance.
The findings, published online July 30 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, build on extensive animal research. They mark the first rigorous indication that the link between acetyl-L-carnitine levels and depression may apply to people, too.
And they point the way to a new class of antidepressants that could be freer of side effects and faster-acting than those in use today, and that may help patients for whom existing treatments don’t work or have stopped working.
Depression, also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, is the most prevalent mood disorder in the United States and the world, affecting 8-10 percent of the general population at any given time, with every fourth person likely to experience the condition over the course of a lifetime.
“It’s the No. 1 reason for absenteeism at work, and one of the leading causes of suicide,” said Natalie Rasgon, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford. “Worse, current pharmacological treatments are effective for only about 50 percent of the people for whom they’re prescribed. And they have numerous side effects, often decreasing long term compliance.”
You can read more on the study here.