The bio-molecule called carnitine is not an amino acid. In chemical structure it is related to the B vitamins and is not connected with protein formation or synthesis. It is usually considered together with the amino acids, because it is somewhat similar in chemical structure to most of the amino acids.
The function of carnitine does not involve a role as a neurotransmitter, nor is it used in the formation of proteins. The main biochemical role of carnitine is in facilitating the transportation of long-chain fatty acids within the metabolic pathways in the body. These long chain fatty acids are burned inside the cells to provide energy to the body when glucose is lacking. Carnitine is found as a major source for metabolic energy in the muscles and aids. The presence of carnitine can thus be related to the utilization of fat as a primary energy source in the tissues. An important corollary of this role of carnitine in the body is in the prevention of fatty molecules, particularly in vital organs like the heart and the liver, as well as the skeletal muscles. The presence of carnitine in the body also leads to an overall reduction in the health risks induced in the body of a person due to poor metabolism of fats associated with disorders such as diabetes. Carnitine also lessens the chances of alcohol caused disorders such as fatty liver. The presence of the bio-molecule in the body in sufficient levels also leads to a lessened risk of heart disorders affecting a person. Carnitine supplementation has been linked to reduced levels of damage in cardiac tissues following major cardiac surgery in studies carried out on patients. Carnitine also plays other important roles in the body, and possesses a beneficial ability to considerably lower the high levels of triglycerides in the blood; this can greatly aid weight loss in a person affected by obesity. Carnitine also helps in the improvement of muscle strength in neuromuscular disorder affected individuals. There is evidence that certain types of muscular dystrophy may possibly be linked to deficiencies in the level of carnitine in the body, at the same time, such disorders have been shown to cause high loss of carnitine in the urine of patients. Patients affected by muscular dystrophy and related muscular illnesses will require larger than normal levels of carnitine in the body to make up for the loss through urine. The effectiveness and potency of antioxidants such as vitamins E and C is also improved by carnitine.
People affected by kidney and liver diseases are also treated using carnitine supplements under medical supervision. Endurance and stamina in athlete’s can also be boosted using carnitine supplements. Carnitine has some other essential functions; it improves the tone of muscles and actively supports the skeletal muscular system, at the same time it aids in alleviating neuromuscular problems in the body. Heightened levels of cholesterol or the triglycerides are also reduced by carnitine. Some cases of male infertility, induced by weakened sperm are also treated using carnitine. In addition, patients afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease may also benefit from supplements of carnitine. The bio-molecule can slow down, prevent and even reverse the effects of the disease on the body.
Provided that sufficient amounts of the trace mineral iron, the vitamin B1 (thiamine), the vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), and some amino acids like lysine and methionine are present in the body, carnitine synthesis occurs normally in the body. The existence of adequate levels of the vitamin C in the body is also a prerequisite in the synthesis of carnitine. A carnitine deficiency can become apparent if there is inadequate intake of any one of these essential nutrients in the diet. Food sources of carnitine are primarily meats and can include different products of animal origin like milk.
A partial genetic cause has been observed in the many different cases of carnitine deficiency identified in people. Such causes can come about when a defect in the synthesis of carnitine is inherited from parents by a child. Physically observable symptoms of carnitine deficiency may possibly include signs such as mental confusion, the presence of pain in the chest or heart, general muscle weakness, and long term obesity with no known cause. Carnitine is generally required at much higher levels in the body of men due to their greater muscle mass; with few exceptions must women need less carnitine in the body than men. The deficiency in carnitine is also likely to affect vegetarians as carnitine is absent in vegetable protein and such deficiencies need to be corrected by supplementation. A related cause of deficiency of carnitine in vegetarians is the low amount of lysine and methionine in vegetables – these are two of the key amino acid constituents needed to synthesize carnitine in the body. Vegetarians need to eat more of grains, including cornmeal, fortified with lysine or make up for the reduced levels of carnitine and amino acids with appropriate supplements.
Carnitine is available in several supplemental forms, such as D-carnitine and L-carnitine, and also as DL-carnitine, as well as the acetyl-L-carnitine form. The best supplemental form recommended by doctors is the L-carnitine form.
The greatest amounts of carnitine can be found in dairy products and red meat – these food sources need to be consumed from time to time. Naturally, a lower carnitine intake results in people who rarely consume meat and dairy products and some deficiency of carnitine may affect vegetarians.
Due to the relative ease of carnitine synthesis in the body, absolute deficiencies for this compound are rare, even in very strict vegetarians – supplementation easily makes up for the deficiencies. A carnitine deficiency can also quickly result due to some rare genetic diseases affecting the person. Carnitine deficiencies are also occasionally connected with other diseases, including metabolic disorders like diabetes and cirrhosis of the liver. The oxygen deprivation, that can come about due to certain heart conditions can also result in carnitine deficiencies. Problems such as heart failure are usually treated in places like Italy using carnitine, the compound is also prescribed fro the treatment of cardiac arrhythmias, for problems such as angina pectoris, and to treat the lack of oxygen transport to the heart in cardiac disorders.
Supplementation with carnitine is not necessary for the majority of people including vegetarians. Carnitine used as a therapeutic compound, is typical given in doses of 1-3 grams daily. There is uncertainty over whether the propionyl-L-carnitine form used in congestive heart failure research possesses greater benefits compared to the more common L-carnitine form of the compound. This is because supplementation in both animals and humans using the more common L-carnitine form of the compound has shown much more promising effects in patients.
Side effects and cautions
There has not been any specific toxic effect attributable to the L-carnitine supplement. Carnitine synthesis in the body can only be done if components such as the amino acids lysine and methionine, the vitamin C, the trace element iron, the vitamin niacin, and the vitamin B6 are present in sufficient quantities.
There are no specific side effects connected to L-carnitine use. This supplement is considered safe for use by patients. Toxic side effects are associated with the D-carnitine form of the compound. All patients suffering from some form of heart condition must first consult a health care provider before using carnitine supplements to treat deficiencies. A fishy odor may linger on the body if more than a gram or 1000 mg are taken daily for some time. The appearance of the odor is not predictable and may not come at all. There is no danger associated with this odor and it tends to dissipate very fast and goes away on reduction of dosage. Since vegetable proteins do not contain carnitine, those vegetarians who may become deficient in carnitine should consider supplementation after consulting a physician.
- From Tim – Feb-11-2013
- 61 yr old diagnosed with heart failure. Just increased from 500 mg to 1 gm last night. Today was walking in the store with no pain. Very helpful.