Acetyl-L-Carnitine and Restoring Missing Periods

Continuing my series of posts on supplements and recovery of mising periods… overview here, and post on Vitex here 🙂 I am going to review acetyl-l-carnitine next as it is a supplement for which there is evidence for effectiveness in restoring missing menstrual periods from controlled clinical studies. Thanks to Addie for helping with the research!

Here’s a table of contents for this post, as it ended up being super long!!

Alright, let’s get started. First, acetyl-L-carnitine, also known as L-acetylcarnitine, ALC, or ALCAR, is a derivative of the amino acid L-carnitine (aka levocarnitine). L-carnitine acts as a recipient of an acetyl group in a reaction that releases CoA for use in the Krebs cycle that generates energy (ATP) in the mitochondria. ALC is naturally synthesized in our bodies on an ongoing basis, and crosses the blood/brain barrier, therefore potentially affecting brain hormones, chemistry, or brain function. Studies have been performed examining the effectiveness of ALC in a number of indications, ranging from diabetic neuropathy to Alzheimer’s disease.

Chemical structure of Acetyl-L-Carnitine:

By Ed (Edgar181) - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31705679

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Does Vitex Help Restore Missing Periods?

(This is the first post in a series on supplements and period recovery – see the overview here. The very short version is that I did a survey of women in hypothalamic amenorrhea recovery facebook groups and 53 women had tried 65 different supplements in order to try and recover periods. We are going to examine each of them to see what the scientific evidence shows.)

VITEX

The most common herb/supplement taken in hopes of helping recover missing periods was Vitex, taken by over a third of those who responded to my survey (21/53). This is a shortened name for Vitex Agnus Castus also known as Chasteberry, which is something I learned as I started looking into this. So most women reported taking “vitex’, but some said “agnus castus” or “chasteberry” – as far as I can tell they are synonyms.

Vitex-agnus-castus-foliage

RESEARCH METHODS

I did a search of the medical literature using the following queries in pubmed to find research relevant to understanding whether vitex can help restore a missing period.

Vitex fertility
Vitex amenorrhea
Vitex oligomenorrhea
Vitex luteal phase
Vitex follicular phase
Vitex progesterone
Vitex estrogen
Vitex osteoporosis

RESULTS

The searches came up with between 5-25 results, many overlapping between searches. I read through abstracts where available (a few articles were in languages I don’t speak, or had no abstract available) and the full article if the abstract seemed relevant and I wanted to learn more.

My conclusion is that Vitex Agnus Castus does NOT lead to restoration of cycles in someone experiencing hypothalamic amenorrhea (unless that amenorrhea is due to elevated levels of prolactin), and may in fact be hindering the return of a missing period.

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Supplements to Recover Missing Periods?

I recently asked in my Facebook support group what supplements women had used while trying to recover from hypothalamic amenorrhea / no period as I wanted to look further into the science behind each of them. I was astounded at the range of answers – 53 women used one or more of 65 different supplements!

Can pills help recover missing periods?

By Root66 (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

How do I restore missing periods?

Unfortunately, many women are prescribed supplements instead of what we all know works – eating more, exercising less (particularly less high intensity exercise), and reducing stress. A common refrain was captured well by one poster:

Ellen: Oooh, I’ve tried so many supplements in hopes of sidestepping real lifestyle change! I’ve dabbled with vitex, maca, soy, estroven, bulletproof diet recipes, acupuncture…while some (acupuncture) really benefited me in other aspects like stress level, none served as proxies for eating bravely and resting bravely- which I am finally giving a go.

It is really important to take heed of what Ellen says – there is no way around making lifestyle changes. If you have no period due to HA, while you might (possibly – success is not guaranteed!) be able to get pregnant using injectable gonadotropins or IVF, those are not going to restore your system to balance or bring back that missing period / cycle. In the words of another wise woman: Continue reading