Carnitine metabolism and deficit--when supplementation is necessary?

Curr Pharm Biotechnol. 2003 Jun;4(3):211-9. doi: 10.2174/1389201033489829.


Carnitine is an ammo acid derivative found in high energy demanding tissues (skeletal muscles, myocardium, the liver and the suprarenal glands). It is essential for the intermediary metabolism of fatty acids. Carnitine is indispensable for beta-oxidation of long-chain fatty acids in the mitochondria but also regulates CoA concentration and removal of the produced acyl groups. AcylCoAs act as restraining factor for several enzymes participating in intermediary metabolism. Transformation of AcylCoA into acylcarnitine is an important system for removing the toxic acyl groups. Although primary deficiency is unusual, depletion due to secondary causes, such as a disease or a medication side effect, can occur. Primary carnitine deficiency is caused by a defect in plasma membrane carnitine transporter in muscle and kidneys. Secondary carnitine deficiency is associated with several inborn errors of metabolism and acquired medical or iatrogenic conditions, for example in patients under valproate and zidovuline treatment. In cirrhosis and chronic renal failure, carnitine biosynthesis is impaired or carnitine is lost during hemodialysis. Other chronic conditions like diabetes mellitus, heart failure, Alzheimer disease may cause carnitine deficiency also observed in conditions with increased catabolism as in critical illness. Preterm neonates develop carnitine deficiency due to impaired proximal renal tubule carnitine re-absorption and immature carnitine biosynthesis. Carnitine stabilizes the cellular membrane and raises red blood cell osmotic resistance but has no metabolic influence on lipids in dialysis patients. L-Carnitine has been administered in senile dementia, metabolic nerve diseases, in HIV infection, tuberculosis, myopathies, cardiomyopathies, renal failure anemia and included in baby foods and milk.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carnitine* / administration & dosage
  • Carnitine* / deficiency
  • Carnitine* / metabolism
  • Diabetes Mellitus / metabolism
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Heart Failure / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria, Muscle / metabolism
  • Renal Insufficiency / metabolism


  • Carnitine