Usefulness of L-carnitine, a naturally occurring peripheral antagonist of thyroid hormone action, in iatrogenic hyperthyroidism: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial


Benvenga S, Ruggeri RM, Russo A, Lapa D, Campenni A, Trimarchi F




J Clin Endocrinol Metab


Old studies in animals and unblinded studies in a few hyperthyroid patients suggested that L -carnitine is a periferal antagonist of thyroid hormone action at least in some tissues. This conclusion was substantiated by our recent observation that carnitine inhibits thyroid hormone entry into the nucleus of hepatocytes, neurons, and fibroblasts. In the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled 6-month trial reported here, we assessed whether 2 or 4 g/d oral L-carnitine were able to both reverse and prevent/minimize nine hyperthyroidism- related symptoms. We also evaluated changes on nine thyroid hormone-sensitive biochemical parameters and on vertebral and hip mineral density (bone mineral density). Fifty women under a fixed TSH-suppressive dose of L -T(4) for all 6 months were randomly allocated to five groups of 10 subjects each. Group 0 associated placebo for 6 months; groups A2 and A4 started associating placebo (first bimester), substituted placebo with 2 or 4 g/d carnitine (second bimester), and then returned to the association with placebo. Groups B2 and B4 started associating 2 and 4 g/d carnitine for the first two bimesters, and then substituted carnitine with placebo (third bimester). Symptoms and biochemical parameters worsened in group 0. In group A, symptoms and biochemical parameters worsened during the first bimester, returned to baseline or increased minimally during the second bimester (except osteocalcin and urinary OH-proline), and worsened again in the third bimester. In group B, symptoms and biochemical parameters (except osteocalcin and urinary OH-proline) did not worsen or even improved over the first 4 months; they tended to worsen in the third bimester. In both the A and B groups, the two doses of carnitine were similarly effective. At the end of the trial, bone mineral density tended to increase in groups B and A (B > A). In conclusion, L-carnitine is effective in both reversing and preventing symptoms of hyperthyroidism and has a beneficial effect on bone mineralization. Because hyperthyroidism depletes the body deposits of carnitine and since carnitine has no toxicity, teratogenicity, contraindications and interactions with drugs, carnitine can be of clinical use.