There are many causes for carnitine depletion during maintenance hemodialysis. Supplementation with L-carnitine in animals has been associated with improvement in some abnormalities also present in chronic renal failure. However, it is still controversial whether restoring plasma or tissue carnitine will correct clinical or biologic symptoms observed in maintenance hemodialysis. A systematic review is here performed to determine the effects of L-carnitine in maintenance hemodialysis patients. Eighty-three prospective trials were identified from 1978 to 1999 in which L-carnitine was randomly allocated in 21 trials. Change in serum triglycerides, cholesterol fractions, hemoglobin levels, erythropoietin dose, and other symptoms (muscle function, exercise capacity, and quality of life) were examined. A total of 482 patients in 18 trials were considered for analysis. There was no effect of L-carnitine on triglycerides, total cholesterol, or any of its fractions. Before the erythropoietin (EPO) era, L-carnitine treatment was associated with improved hemoglobin (P < 0.01) and with a decreased EPO dose (P < 0.01) and improved resistance to EPO when patients routinely received EPO. Muscle function, exercise capacity, and quality of life could not be reliably assessed because of the noncombinable nature of end points and the limited number of trials. In conclusion, L-carnitine cannot be recommended for treating the dyslipidemia of maintenance hemodialysis patients. By contrast, this review suggests a promising effect of L-carnitine on anemia management. The route of L-carnitine administration should be evaluated because there is no evidence as to the most efficient method of administration in maintenance hemodialysis.