Carnitine replacement in end-stage renal disease and hemodialysis

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2004 Nov;1033:52-66. doi: 10.1196/annals.1320.005.


In patients with chronic renal failure, not yet undergoing hemodialysis (HD), plasma acylcarnitines accumulate in part due to a decreased renal clearance of esterified carnitine moieties. In these patients, a high acylcarnitine/free-carnitine ratio is usually found in plasma. Patients undergoing maintenance HD, usually present with plasma carnitine insufficiency, due to accumulation of metabolic intermediates combined with impaired carnitine biosynthesis, reduced protein intake and increased removal via HD. Plasma carnitine concentrations rapidly decrease to 40% of baseline level during the dialysis session, with a slow restoration of the carnitine concentration during the interdialytic period, mainly from organs of storage (skeletal muscle). Dietary intake also plays an important role in carnitine homeostasis of HD patients since the prevalence of malnutrition ranges from 18% to 75% of these cases. This could differentially affect various body compartments, with clinical consequences such as impaired muscle function, decreased wound healing, altered ventilatory response, and abnormal immune function. Repeated hemodialytic treatments are associated with decreased carnitine stores in skeletal muscle. The administration of intravenous L-carnitine (LC) postdialysis replenishes the free carnitine removed from the blood and contributes to replenishment of muscle carnitine content. LC supplementation in selected uremic patients may yield clinical benefits by ameliorating several conditions, such as erythropoietin-resistant anemia, decreased cardiac performance, intradialytic hypotension, muscle symptoms, as well as impaired exercise and functional capacities. Furthermore, LC may positively influence the nutritional status of HD patients by promoting a positive protein balance, and by reducing insulin resistance and chronic inflammation, possibly through an effect on leptin resistance.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anemia / metabolism
  • Cardiomyopathies / metabolism
  • Carnitine / physiology
  • Carnitine / therapeutic use*
  • Homeostasis / physiology
  • Humans
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / physiopathology
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / therapy*
  • Renal Dialysis*


  • Carnitine