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L-carnitine is an amino acid (a building block for proteins) that is important for energy production in your body, as well as heart and brain function, muscle movement, amongst other processes.

What are its health benefits?

L-carnitine also acts as an antioxidant and thus fights harmful free radicals, which damage your cells and DNA.

L-carnitine supplements are used in the following ways:

  • For the treatment and prevention of L-carnitine deficiency in people suffering from serious kidney disease.
  • For helping those whose natural levels are too low because of a genetic disorder or because of medication they’re taking, for example, medication for seizures.
  • To treat preterm infants whose tiny bodies can’t produce enough of this amino acid.
  • For assisting in the treatment of heart disease such as congestive heart failure, inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), chest pain (angina) and high cholesterol.
  • For treating high thyroid hormone levels (hyperthyroidism).
  • For increasing sperm count and motility (movement) for male fertility.
  • Studies suggest that acetyl-L-carnitine may help with mental function and reduce deterioration in older adults with Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment.
  • Some athletes take it to boost their performance. However, studies show that there doesn’t appear to be any additional benefit to this supplementation when it comes to sports performance. 
  • It’s punted as a weight loss aid, though there is no scientific evidence supporting this claim.

Do you have a deficiency?

Your body usually produces enough L-carnitine for its needs. However, specific genetic diseases, chronic renal failure and medication (certain antibiotics, for example) can lead to a L-carnitine deficiency.

Find it in these food sources

This amino acid is found in the following foods:

  • Meat: the redder the meat, the higher its carnitine content. Lamb is particularly rich in it.
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Milk
  • Wheat
  • Asparagus
  • Avocados
  • Peanut butter

Recommended daily allowance (RDA)

You should talk to your Clicks pharmacist before considering supplementation, as supplements can interfere with the natural form of this amino acid.

However, if you are being treated for a specific health condition, the average daily dosage is between 1 to 3g.

Rather avoid its use in the following circumstances:

  • During pregnancy
  • If you have an under-active thyroid (hypothyroidism)
  • If you experience seizures

Know the overdose risks

If you ingest too much, possible side effects could include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • An upset stomach
  • Heartburn
  • Diarrhoea
  • Seizures
  • Your urine, breath and sweat could also smell “fishy”

Ensure you discuss dietary supplementation with your Clicks pharmacist to avoid the potential for side effects and adverse interactions with medications.

The accuracy of this information was checked and approved by Clicks' pharmacist Waheed Abdurahman in February 2015