L-Carnitine and chemotherapy-induced fatigue.




British Journal of Cancer

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L-carnitine is an amino acid that is made in the human body. For this reason, L-carnitine is usually not considered to be an essential nutrient. However, premature infants and some adults cannot make L-carnitine in sufficient amounts, which necessitates supplementation. L-carnitine is only found in animal food sources such as meat, poultry, and dairy products. Human breast milk is an important source of L-carnitine for infants.

Studies suggest that L-carnitine may have a number of applications in supporting the overall health. This nutrient may also play a role in the production of energy in the body. Carnitine is instrumental in the conversion of certain types of fatty acids into fuel for the mitochondria. Production of energy in the mitochondria from these fatty acids is especially important in heart and skeletal muscles. For this reason, L-carnitine may be of benefit to those who suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome.1

Researchers decided to look into the potential benefits of L-carnitine in chemotherapy-induced fatigue. Two chemo drugs particularly known to cause fatigue are ifsofamide and cisplatin. These drugs also cause loss of carnitine through the urine in chemotherapy patients. This small study was recently published in the British Journal of Cancer. The 50 subjects involved were patients with low carnitine levels, who experienced fatigue, and were non-anemic. After assessment of fatigue using the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy-Fatigue quality of life questionnaire, the subjects received 4 g of L-carnitine for 7 consecutive days. After treatment, plasma carnitine levels returned to normal in all patients and in 45 patients, the symptoms of fatigue improved. The authors of this study acknowledged that, "This compound deserves further investigations in a randomised, placebo-controlled study."2


1. Kelly GS. L-Carnitine: therapeutic applications of a conditionally-essential amino acid. Altern Med Rev. Oct1998;3(5):345-60.
2. Graziano F, et al. Potential role of levocarnitine supplementation for the treatment of chemotherapy-induced fatigue in non-anaemic cancer patients British Journal of Cancer. Jun 2002;86:1854-1857.