Mechanisms underlying the anti-wasting effect of L-carnitine supplementation under pathologic conditions: evidence from experimental and clinical studies

Eur J Nutr. 2013 Aug;52(5):1421-42. doi: 10.1007/s00394-013-0511-0. Epub 2013 Mar 19.


Purpose: Loss of skeletal muscle mass, also known as muscle wasting or muscle atrophy, is a common symptom of several chronic diseases, such as cancer and infectious diseases. Due to the strong negative impact of muscle loss on patient's prognosis and quality of life, the development of efficacious treatment approaches to combat muscle wasting are of great importance. In order to evaluate the suitability of L-carnitine (LC) as an anti-wasting agent for clinical purposes the present review comprehensively summarizes the results from animal and clinical studies showing the effects of supplementation with LC or LC derivatives (acetyl-LC, propionyl-LC) on critical mechanisms involved in skeletal muscle loss under pathologic conditions, such as increased proteolysis, impaired protein synthesis, myonuclear apoptosis, inflammation, oxidative stress, and mitochondrial dysfunction.

Results: Evidence from both animal and clinical studies exists that LC supplementation causes an improved nitrogen balance either due to increased protein synthesis or reduced protein degradation, an inhibition of apoptosis and an abrogation of inflammatory processes under pathologic conditions. Furthermore, strong evidence has been provided, at least from animal studies, that LC supplementation prevents oxidative stress and ameliorates mitochondrial function, whereas results from a very low number of available clinical studies in this regard are inconclusive.

Conclusion: In conclusion, LC supplementation beneficially influences several critical mechanisms involved in pathologic skeletal muscle loss that may at least partially explain the anti-catabolic effects and the improvement of fatigue-related parameters following LC supplementation in patients with chronic diseases. However, more suitable clinical trials (double-blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled, large-scale) are necessary in order to establish LC supplementation as strategy for anti-wasting therapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carnitine / administration & dosage*
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Muscle, Skeletal / drug effects
  • Muscle, Skeletal / pathology
  • Muscular Atrophy / drug therapy*
  • Muscular Atrophy / etiology
  • Muscular Diseases / drug therapy
  • Muscular Diseases / etiology
  • Neoplasms / complications
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • Quality of Life
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vitamin B Complex / administration & dosage*


  • Vitamin B Complex
  • Carnitine