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Carnitine is good for a number of conditions, it is a good energy booster, antioxidant and a mood and cognitive enhancer. Continue to read below to know more about the various other health benefits of carnitine.

Introduction: What is Carnitine?

L-Carnitine

Carnitine is an amino acid found in nearly every cell of the body. It is a generic name for a variety of compounds such as L-carnitine, acetyl-L-carnitine, and propionyl-L-carnitine.

Although chemically similar with overlapping benefits, L-carnitine, acetyl-L-carnitine, and propionyl-L-carnitine are three different supplements with different mechanisms of action and different general uses.

Acetyl-L-carnitine is generally used to improve brain functioning and cognition [R].

L-carnitine is used to increase energy levels, especially in those with disease or genetic disorders [R].

Propionyl-L-carnitine is used to increase blood circulation [R].

All forms of carnitine play a vital role in the production of energy. Carnitine helps turn body fat into energy. It also gets rid of toxic compounds from the mitochondria to prevent build up. Carnitine is produced by the liver and kidneys and stored in muscle, brain, and heart tissue that use fatty acids as energy [R].

Those with genetic disorders, disease, vegetarians, underweight, and premature infants can often benefit from supplemental carnitine. Other conditions that cause carnitine deficiency include angina and intermittent claudication.

Generally, carnitine is found in meat, fish, poultry, and milk [R].

Carnitine Snapshot

Pros

  • Helps mitochondrial and energy function
  • Helps liver function
  • Helps brain function
  • Helps with brain and bodily fatigue
  • Can improve performance
  • Improves semen quality and fertility in med

Cons

  • Carnitine may contribute to heart disease by metabolism of TMAO
  • Can cause a bit of nausea or stomach upset
  • Long-term use may cause oxidative stress in the liver and blood
  • Inhibits thyroid function

The Health Benefits of Carnitine

1-2) Carnitine as a Weight Loss Aid and Performance Enhancer

Carnitine as a Weight Loss Aid and Performance Enhancer

L-carnitine is often referred to as a weight loss aid. Since younger people have a sufficient amount of carnitine in the body it does not have as great of results as in older people. In older people, carnitine improves body composition. However, it may improve exercise endurance in all ages by increasing muscle carnitine levels [R].

Initial studies have found that dietary carnitine stimulates the break down of fats into energy, reduces the amount of lactic acid produced during exercise, speeds up recovery from exercise stress, prevents cell damage, and prevents cell death [R]. This may contribute to weight loss.

In a study of overweight women diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, carnitine supplements reduced their weight, body mass index, and waist and hip size (circumference) [R].

One study supplemented the diets of dialysis patients with 1000 mg of carnitine for 12 weeks but found no changes in leptin levels, body weight, or body mass [R].

3) Carnitine May Reduce Fatigue From Disease and Aging

Carnitine Reduces Chronic Fatigue From Disease and Aging

Fatigue is common in cancer patients after treatments from chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and poor nutrition. Low carnitine levels can contribute to this fatigue. Carnitine has been seen to help improve mood and quality of sleep while diminishing fatigue. In one study, terminal cancer patients received 250 milligrams of carnitine 3 times a day and as a result, improved fatigue and quality of life [R].

Patients with kidney disease often have anemia, a condition in which red blood cells are deformed. The deformity prevents the blood cells from carrying enough oxygen to the body’s tissues, causing fatigue. A study following dialysis patients found that carnitine supplements reduced red blood cell deformity and increased overall red blood cell count in 3 months [R].

Another study on dialysis patients found that carnitine injections helped sustain higher levels of oxygen use (improved endurance), such as during exercise, and also reduced overall fatigue [R].

In a study of elderly subjects, L-carnitine treatment reduced physical fatigue, mental fatigue, or severity of fatigue. L-carnitine treatment also resulted in reduced muscle pain and improved cognitive function [R].

Feeding acetyl-l-carnitine and lipoic acid to old rats synergistically and significantly improved metabolic function while decreasing oxidative stress [R].

4) Carnitine May Improve Mood

Carnitine Improves Mood

Carnitine’s energy-boosting abilities may also serve to reduce depressive symptoms.

Initial studies found that acetyl-L-carnitine has an anti-depressant effect in elderly patients with age-associated depression [R].

A study found that supplementing the diets of fibromyalgia patients with acetyl-L-carnitine improved depressive symptoms and reduced muscle pain [R].

In a genetically modified mouse model of depression, consistent treatment with acetyl-L-carnitine reduced depression as determined by a forced-swim test [R, R].

5) Carnitine May Improve Cognition

 Carnitine Improves Cognition

Carnitine levels gradually decline as Alzheimer’s progresses, suggesting that patients with Alzheimer’s could potentially benefit from acetyl-L-carnitine treatment [R].

L-carnitine, especially acetyl-L-carnitine improve memory in older people and in Alzheimer patients by slowing progression of the disease. By consuming carnitine, acetylcholine is produced. This neurotransmitter usually declines as memory loss advances. In this case, carnitine increases energy production and gives energy to starved brain cells which slow down memory loss [R].

In a rat model of chronic kidney disease, administration of carnitine significantly improved cognitive function [R].

In brain issues (encephalopathy) caused by liver problems (cirrhosis), carnitine was able to lower ammonia and improve brain function [R].

6) Carnitine May Help Male Infertility & Sexual Function

The amount of carnitine in semen is directly related to sperm count and mobility. Therefore, an intake of carnitine can help treat male infertility. Carnitine can provide more energy for sperm cells and can reduce cell death in the testes. A study of 100 infertile men revealed that an intake of carnitine supplements increased motility in the sperm cells [R].

In a six-month-long study, married but infertile men were given an oral dose of 250 mg carnitine four times a day. Results showed increased sperm count, mobility, and concentration with an effectiveness level similar to that of varicocelectomy surgery (A Varicocele is a network of tangled blood vessels (varicose veins in the scrotum) [R].

A build-up of free radicals can be caused by infection, long sexual abstinence, harmful environmental factors, and varicocele. These free radicals damage cell structure and genetic material, and accelerates cell death.

Since carnitine can be considered an antioxidant and has a neutralizing effect on free radicals, it makes sense that carnitine would improve the viability of sperm cells. This was confirmed both in cells and in organisms [R].

A study of dialysis patients found that testosterone levels were directly correlated with carnitine levels in the blood, suggesting that supplemental carnitine may increase testosterone levels and sexual function.

However, a study on rats showed that inhibiting the production of carnitine (and consequently lowering the overall level of carnitine) did not decrease the sexual activity or sperm quality of male rats [R].

7) Carnitine May Help Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance may be related to an inability to burn fat. Increased levels of fat in lean tissue has become a sign of insulin resistance. Some research suggests that carnitine may improve insulin sensitivity by decreasing fat levels in lean tissue and muscle. Studies showed that consuming carnitine supplements provided relief of nerve pain [R].

In a study of overweight women diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, carnitine supplements lowered glucose and insulin blood levels, and reduced insulin resistance [R].

8) Carnitine and Sleep Quality

Carnitine and Sleep Quality

Sleep-disordered breathing is associated with heart damage and altered heart carnitine metabolism. Although carnitine levels are low in heart tissue in those with chronic heart failure, carnitine levels of the blood are increased because of leakage from damaged heart cells and altered carnitine metabolism [R].

Carnitine supplementation can help patients suffering from obstructive sleep apnea, a condition where breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep. Carnitine helped improve airway for breathing and improved overall sleep quality for patients [R].

In a study of elderly subjects, L-carnitine treatment improved symptoms of sleep disorders [R].

However, a study on premature infants suffering from apnea, a condition in which an individual stops breathing while sleeping, found no evidence that carnitine reduces apnea and dependence on mechanical ventilation.

A study of fibromyalgia patients also found no improvement in sleep disturbances in a group treated with L-carnitine [R].

9) Carnitine May Improve Daytime Alertness in Narcolepsy

Acylcarnitine levels are abnormally low in narcolepsy patients, but L-carnitine supplements have been found to reduce the number of time patients spent dozing off during the day. L-carnitine treatment increased acylcarnitine and reduced fat in the blood [R].

10) Carnitine May Be Protective Against Heart Disease

Carnitine is Protective Against Heart Disease

Carnitine and its derivatives protect heart function and have demonstrated benefits in conditions where a weak heart fails to pump enough blood, glucose, and oxygen to the body’s tissues. Without enough blood and oxygen to meet the body’s needs, heart attack, stroke, and death can occur.

Carnitine can help those with heart conditions by increasing glucose metabolism, increasing blood flow, correcting abnormal heart rhythms, and reducing toxicity [R].

A 3-year long-term study on patients with heart failure found that L-carnitine increased survival rates compared to those who did not receive carnitine treatment [R].

In a rat-model study of cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart is weak, L-carnitine prevented the death of muscle cells in some parts of the heart [R].

Taurine and L-carnitine can work together to benefit heart health. In rat muscle cells, L-carnitine and taurine stopped the multiplication (proliferation) and hardening of muscle cells. This can prevent the hardening of blood vessels and stop plaque from accumulating, thus preventing heart disease or atherosclerosis [R].

11) Carnitine May Slow HIV Progression to AIDS

Carnitine May Slow HIV Progression to AIDS

Because HIV patients develop complications such as muscle, fat, and nerve degeneration, they may benefit from carnitine which prevents cell death. In HIV positive individuals L-carnitine and acetyl-L-carnitine treatments increased CD4 counts, reduced cell death, prevented heart tissue damage, and reduced the number of triglycerides (fat) in the blood [R].

L-carnitine prevents the death of white blood cells, which would help fight HIV infection. Specifically, L-carnitine treatment increased the amount of CD4 and CD8 T-cells, which are particularly helpful in fighting the HIV retrovirus [R].

An initial study on patients HIV-associated fat tissue degeneration did not find any evidence for using L-carnitine to reverse the effects of fat tissue degeneration. This study found that L-carnitine lowered cholesterol levels in the blood, but not the levels of triglycerides [R].

12) Carnitine May Improve Kidney Function

In a rat model of chronic kidney disease, administration of carnitine significantly improved kidney function. Carnitine lowered the levels of creatinine and BUN in the blood, reduced kidney tissue damage and abnormal kidney enlargement [R].

13) Carnitine May Strengthen Bone

Carnitine May Strengthen Bone

In a mouse model of osteoporosis, L-carnitine and isovaleryl-L-carnitine stimulated bone formation, improving bone turnover, bone density, bone size, and bone structure [R].

Another study found that dietary L-carnitine improved the bone mineral content and bone mineral density in a female mouse model of postmenopausal bone loss. Results indicate slowed bone loss and improved bone structure [R].

Carnitine promotes bone mineralization, in part by inhibiting thyroid hormone action [R].

14) Carnitine May Suppress Seizures

In several mouse studies of drug-induced seizure, pre-treating the mice with L-carnitine successfully suppressed seizures. The more carnitine a mouse was given, the more strongly seizures were suppressed [RR].

15) Carnitine May Help the Liver

Carnitine Helps the Liver

Many studies have found that valproate and other anticonvulsant drugs reduce the body’s carnitine levels, resulting in liver damage.  L-carnitine supplementation in such individuals may prevent or reduce the severity of liver damage [R].

A rat model of hyperthyroidism induced by L-thyroxine injections showed that L-carnitine has a dose-dependent protective effect against liver damage [R].

In brain issues (encephalopathy) caused by liver problems (cirrhosis), carnitine was able to lower ammonia and improve brain function [R].

16) Carnitine Prevents Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism can occur when thyroid hormone is overproduced. L-carnitine can reverse and prevent symptoms of hyperthyroidism [R].

L-carnitine inhibits both triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) entry into the cell nuclei. This is relevant because thyroid hormone action is mainly mediated by specific nuclear receptors.

In one randomized trial, 2 and 4 grams per day of L-carnitine reversed hyperthyroid symptoms. In another study, L-carnitine proved usefulness in a thyroid storm [R].

17) Carnitine May Help ALS

L-carnitine suppresses the onset of neuromuscular degeneration and increases the lifespan of mice with familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis [R].

Other

In rats, carnitine had a protective effect against genetic damage, with higher doses being more effective [R].

Drawbacks/Risks Involved with Carnitine

  • Taking doses at about 3 grams per day can cause vomiting, diarrhea, a fishy body odor, abdominal cramps, and nausea. More severe and rarer side effects are seizures and muscle weakness for those who are prone to heart disease [R].
  • Some research suggests that carnitine is metabolized into TMAO, which changes cholesterol metabolism and may promote plaque build-up in the arteries. This leads to the degeneration of artery walls, restricted blood circulation, and blood clot. These conditions would make it harder for the heart to pump blood and supply bodily tissues with enough oxygen and nutrients and may cause stress to the heart, possibly leading to heart disease [R].
  • As mentioned, Carnitine inhibits both triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) entry into the cell.  This means that if you’re hypothyroid, it’s not a great supplement to take.
  • Long-term use of L-carnitine accelerates the production of reactive oxygen species in the liver and blood in mice [R].
  • L-carnitine may disturb kidney function through ion transporters in mice [R].

Buying Carnitine

I find that Acetyl Carnitine has more noticeable effects, especially when it comes to the brain.

Health Tools I Wish I Had When I Was Sick

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12 COMMENTS

  • Meghan Denney

    I had terrible stomach cramp and diarrhea shortly after taking it. Will this eventually go away or will it be every time I take it?

  • Doug

    Helen: But aren’t ALCAR and L-Carnitine chemically similar enough that it would be prudent to assume similar effects on thyroid? ConsumerLab.com says: “Use of acetyl-L-carnitine or other forms of carnitine is not advisable when thyroid levels are low”.

  • Doug

    Does ALCAR inhibit thyroid function, or is it just LCAR? Would be a useful distinction to make.

    1. Helen

      Hi Doug, there’s no scientific articles available on ALCAR’s effects on thyroid function, only anecdotal evidence.

  • Evan Bageris

    L-Carnitine potentially speeds up fat loss dramatically. The problems are poor bioavailability when taken orally and what does get absorbed is eliminated rapidly, points you alluded to. The solution is intramuscular injections in a hyperinsulemic (wrong word but I can’t think of the correct one) I just mean we need blood insulin levels above a threshold while injection is dispersing. This is repeated for a week and muscle Carnitine levels stay elevated for upwards of 90 hours. So one loading week and then eod injections or e3d injections keep levels steady. In the initial study they used an exogenous form of insulin but later got the same results with an average of 94 grams of carbohydrate with each Carnitine injection. I am sure you are familiar with these studies. People who wanted to forego needles altogether were able to very slowly get an effect but as you pointed out the oral dosage really gets uncomfortable at 3 grams and in this case they need to take it all at once, so I believe what could be accomplished with exogenous insulin and Carnitine in 24 hours (if both are delivered IV) days using sugar and oral Carnitine. But many people do IM Carnitine and spike endogenous insulin and as get amazing results. Stephens et al. Is the name of the researcher(s).

  • Chola

    Also, most of the time he specified that it’s only in the case of ALCar, and he pointed out that ALCar is better. Also, in the buy recommendation at the end, he put only ALCar, and not a single different form. So yeah, so much for you saltiness

  • Kelly

    I couldn’t help but notice that most of your references were for acetyl-l-carnitine, and not carnitine. So much for accuracy. 🙂

    1. Nattha Wannissorn, PhD

      it’s the more active form of it.

  • Mikey

    What dosage would you use for promoting SOD2 function and for energy?

    Most I see recommend 2,000mg.

    Thanks!

  • soofjuh

    the EBV spread from my brain to eye nerves after taking this, do you have any explanation for this..?

  • Judyth

    Resveratrol Attenuates Trimethylamine-N-Oxide (TMAO)-Induced Atherosclerosis by Regulating TMAO Synthesis and Bile Acid Metabolism via Remodeling of the Gut Microbiota
    http://mbio.asm.org/content/7/2/e02210-15.abstract

    1. Joseph M. Cohen

      Thanks!

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