Carnosine Improves Cognitive Function in Gulf War Illness, Implications for CFS/ME

Editor’s Comment: Carnosine, a dipeptide composed of the amino acids histidine and beta-alanine, is found abundantly in muscle and brain tissue. A number of studies have found that carnosine is a potent free-radical scavenger, and can mitigate against the damaging effects of aldehydes created by the peroxidation of cell membrane fatty acids (oxidative stress). Because roughly 50% of the brain is fat, carnosine may have significant benefits for people with neurological impairments caused by oxidative stress. Dr. Paul Cheney, Dr. Martin Pall, and others, have cited evidence of increased peroxidation of cell membrane fatty acids among patients with CFS/ME. It is noteworthy that the veterans who participated in this study also met the criteria for CFS/ME.

Note: The full article can be accessed from the abstract.

Carnosine Treatment for Gulf War Illness: A Randomized Controlled Trial

By James N. Baraniuk et al.


About 25% of 1990-1991 Persian Gulf War veterans experience disabling fatigue, widespread pain, and cognitive dysfunction termed Gulf War illness (GWI) or Chronic Multisymptom Illness (CMI). A leading theory proposes that wartime exposures initiated prolonged production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and central nervous system injury. The endogenous antioxidant L-carnosine (B-alanyl-L-histidine) is a potential treatment since it is a free radical scavenger in nervous tissue. To determine if nutritional supplementation with L-carnosine would significantly improve pain, cognition and fatigue in GWI, a randomized double blind placebo controlled 12 week dose escalation study involving 25 GWI subjects was employed. 

L-carnosine was given as 500, 1000, and 1500 mg increasing at 4 week intervals. Outcomes included subjective fatigue, pain and psychosocial questionnaires, and instantaneous fatigue and activity levels recorded by ActiWatch Score devices. Cognitive function was evaluated by WAIS-R digit symbol substitution test. 

Carnosine had 2 potentially beneficial effects: WAIS-R scores increased significantly, and there was a decrease in diarrhea associated with irritable bowel syndrome. No other significant incremental changes were found. Therefore, 12 weeks of carnosine (1500 mg) may have beneficial cognitive effects in GWI. Fatigue, pain, hyperalgesia, activity and other outcomes were resistant to treatment.

Source: Journal of Health Science; Vol. 5, No. 3; 2013. James N. Baraniuk, Suliman El-Amin, Rebecca Corey, Rakib U. Rayhan & Christian R. Timbol.

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