Need a Lift?

Need a Lift?

If you know someone who’s struggling with cancer, one of the best gifts you could possibly give her is a tip on how she might overcome fatigue.

Here’s the tip: L-carnitine.

Special delivery

As I’ve noted in previous e-Alerts, L-carnitine is a key amino acid produced in the kidneys and liver. Carnitine delivers fatty acids to cell mitochondria, helps protect cells (especially heart cells), raises the levels of certain enzymes needed to metabolize carbohydrates, and helps boost energy and muscle strength.

The body doesn’t produce high levels of carnitine, but those levels are enhanced by dietary sources such as meat, chicken, fish, and dairy products. Unfortunately, the body only absorbs about a quarter of the carnitine supplied by food. And the problem is further complicated by the fact that our carnitine levels progressively decrease as we age.

Because carnitine levels are somewhat undependable, and because this nutrient is so beneficial to the heart, patients with heart disease sometimes benefit from supplementary doses of carnitine as high as one or two grams per day.

Fatigue factor

Carnitine deficiency is known to be common among cancer patients. The primary trigger of this deficiency is chemotherapy, which blocks carnitine reabsorption by the kidney. When carnitine levels drop, fatigue sets in – a challenging situation for cancer patients who may also suffer from anemia and other energy-robbing problems related to their disease.

In a recent issue of the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, researchers at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City posed the question: Can carnitine supplements reduce fatigue in cancer patients with carnitine deficiency?


  • Researchers recruited 27 patients with advanced cancer, carnitine deficiency, and moderate to severe fatigue
  • Before and after supplement intervention, subjects completed questionnaires to measure fatigue, depression, and quality of sleep
  • Subjects were divided into seven small groups to receive different daily doses of carnitine: 250 mg, 750 mg, 1,250 mg, 1,750 mg, 2,250 mg, 2,750, and 3,000 mg
  • The intervention period lasted seven days
  • Of the 21 patients who completed the study, 17 increased their carnitine levels
  • Overall, fatigue significantly decreased, while depression and sleep scores also improved
  • The most positive results were found among subjects who received the highest doses
  • Even at higher levels, the supplements were well tolerated

Lead researcher, Dr. Ricardo A Cruciani, told Reuters Health that a larger trial to test carnitine supplementation on a cohort of severely fatigued patients with cancer and other chronic diseases is about to get underway.

If you know someone who is coping with the debilitating effects of chronic fatigue, please pass this tip along. Of course, anyone who hopes to alleviate disease-related fatigue with L-carnitine supplements should first talk to their doctor.

“Safety, Tolerability and Symptom Outcomes Associated with l-Carnitine Supplementation in Patients with Cancer, Fatigue, and Carnitine Deficiency: A Phase I/II Study” Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, Vol. 32, No. 6, December 2006,

“Carnitine May be Useful for Cancer-Related Fatigue” Martha Kerr, Reuters Health, 1/16/07,