Carnitine Health Benefits
Carnitine health benefits include the potential to improve sexual performance, fatigue and depression, and possibly raising testosterone levels. This amino acid is produced in the kidneys and liver and plays a number of important roles in the body related to energy production.
Among other carnitine health benefits are the delivery of fatty acids to the cells’ energy-producing organelle, the mitochondria; boosting energy and muscle strength, and raising the levels of certain enzymes needed to breakdown carbohydrates.
Because the body does not produce high amounts of carnitine on its own, dietary sources can boost the levels in the body. However, the body absorbs only about 25 percent of the carnitine provided by food. Carnitine levels also decline with age.
Carnitine Health Benefits and Studies
Studies of the health advantages of carnitine show that supplements can reduce fatigue in cancer patients. In a study of 27 patients with advanced cancer, fatigue, and carnitine deficiency, researchers administered varying doses of the amino acid (250 to 3,000 mg) to the patients over seven days. (Cruciani 2006) Of the 21 patients who completed the study, 17 had an increase in carnitine levels. The men also experienced a significant decline in fatigue, along with an improvement in depression and sleep.
Another study evaluated the use of carnitine as compared with testosterone to address reduced sex drive, fatigue, and depression that affect many men as they get older. (Cavallini 2004) Such men are sometimes treated with testosterone, but a group of Italian researchers wanted to see if carnitine could be an option. A total of 130 men aged 60 to 74 were randomly assigned to three groups. Forty-five men received carnitine, 45 received placebo, and 40 received testosterone. None of the men in the study had any prostate problems, heart disease, diabetes, or other relevant diseases. Treatment lasted six months, and the men were evaluated at three and six months for sex drive, hormone levels, prostate size, PSA level, mood, and fatigue.
Both carnitine and testosterone improved sexual performance, and carnitine was more effective than the hormone. Men who took testosterone experienced some increase in prostate volume, a reduction in luteinizing hormone levels, and no change in PSA levels. Carnitine had no effect on any of these three factors. Both testosterone and carnitine provided significant improvement in depression and fatigue.
Some athletes take carnitine to improve their performance. However, decades of research have not uncovered consistent or reliable evidence that carnitine supplements can improve physical or exercise performance in healthy individuals. (Brass 1998; Brass 2004)
Men who want to experience carnitine health benefits should first consult a knowledgeable healthcare professional. At doses of about 3 grams daily, carnitine can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, and a fishy body odor.
Brass EP, Hiatt WR. The role of carnitine and carnitine supplementation during exercise in man and in individuals with special needs. J Am Coll Nutr 1998; 17:207-15
Brass EP. Carnitine and sports medicine: use or abuse? Ann NY Acad Sci 2004; 1033:67-78.
Cavallini G, Caracciolo S, Vitali G et al. Carnitine versus androgen administration in the treatment of sexual dysfunction, depressed mood, and fatigue associated with male aging. Urology 2004l; 641: 641-46.
Cruciani RA et al. Safety, tolerability and symptom outcomes associated with l-carnitine supplementation in patients with cancer, fatigue, and carnitine deficiency: a phase I/II study. J Pain Symp Management 2006 Dec; 32(6)