L-Carnitine has been described as a "conditionally essential" nutrient for humans. Segments of the human population suggested as having a requirement for carnitine include infants (premature and full-term), patients on long-term parenteral nutrition, and perhaps children. The evidence to support these claims includes 1) low circulating carnitine concentrations; 2) abnormal (or at least different) circulating metabolite concentrations (free fatty acids, triglycerides, ketone bodies), and 3) very limited and inconsistent growth data. A number of subjective observations and anecdotal case reports have been offered in support of a requirement for carnitine. Exogenous carnitine is required to maintain "normal" (in the epidemiologic sense) plasma or serum carnitine concentrations in humans of all ages. But "functional carnitine deficiency," defined by abnormal clinical presentation correctable by carnitine administration, has not been demonstrated in an otherwise normal (nonpathologic) population. On the other hand, nutritional or pharmacological intervention with carnitine or its esters may be beneficial for very premature infants, infants and children with various clinical conditions associated with low circulating carnitine concentrations, and in some chronic diseases associated with the aging process.