Carnitine is a protein-like substance that the body synthesizes from two amino acids, methionine and lysine. Carnitine plays a central role in transporting fatty acids to muscle cells, including heart cells, which convert fatty acids to energy. Carnitine also helps maintain healthy levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the bloodstream and helps prevent unhealthy accumulations of fatty acids in the heart, liver and muscles. The body stores carnitine in skeletal muscles and the heart.
Scientists have conducted a significant amount of clinical research on carnitine’s role in human health and have found that carnitine supplementation can help prevent and treat cardiovascular disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease and male infertility.
The body can manufacture all the carnitine it needs if sufficient amounts of lysine and methionine are available. These amino acids are found abundantly in animal products, including beef, pork, chicken, organ meats and dairy products. Additionally, carnitine supplements are available in health food stores.
Carnitine deficiency is rare, but some studies have found low levels in several groups of patients. People with the following conditions may be at risk for carnitine deficiency:
- Dietary deficiency of lysine and methionine, the precursors to carnitine
- Dietary deficiency of any cofactors required for carnitine synthesis, including ascorbic acid, iron, niacin and pyroxidine
- Genetic defects that prevent carnitine synthesis
- Poor intestinal absorption of carnitine
- Kidney or liver dysfunction that interferes with carnitine synthesis
- Defective transport of carnitine
- High metabolic losses of carnitine
- Increased requirements for carnitie due to disease, drugs, metabolic stress or a high-fat diet
Symptoms of carnitine deficiency include muscle weakness, fatigue, chest pain and confusion. If you are at risk for carnitine deficiency and experience any of these symptoms, please consult with physician.