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Carnitine Deficiency Symptoms

By Janet Renee, MS, RD ; Updated April 18, 2017

Carnitine is a substance found throughout your body and available in your diet. Under normal circumstances, however, your body produces all the carnitine it needs each day. Certain medications and conditions, such as angina, can cause low carnitine levels, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Some individuals cannot make enough carnitine due to inherent defects in producing or transporting it into tissues.

A Crucial Substance

Carnitine plays a crucial role in helping your body produce energy from fat. It transports long-chain fatty acids into the fuel centers of your cells, where the fats are then converted to fuel. Your skeletal muscles and heart muscle contain a concentrated amount of carnitine. In healthy adults and children, the liver and kidneys take responsibility for producing enough carnitine from lysine and methionine, two amino acids.

Primary Carnitine Deficiency

Primary carnitine deficiency is a genetic condition that prevents the body from producing energy from certain fats. Symptoms typically appear during infancy or early childhood. These include a weakened and enlarged heart, muscle weakness, low blood sugar and vomiting. Not everyone with primary carnitine deficiency exhibits symptoms, however, according to the Genetics Home Reference. Symptoms related to deficiency can occur when you go too long without food, since the body uses fat for fuel during periods of fasting.

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Secondary Carnitine Deficiency

Metabolic problems can cause secondary carnitine deficiency. This can occur when an error in metabolism blocks the pathways needed for carnitine to enter your cells.This can cause compounds to bind to carnitine and carry it out of the body. The result is a drop in the available carnitine in your cells and tissues. Increasing dietary intake or taking carnitine supplements is beneficial for those with primary and secondary deficiency, according to the University of Illinois Chicago.

Other Deficiency Causes

Other types of deficiency, also classified as secondary, can occur from diarrhea and taking certain antibiotics or anti-convulsant drugs, such as valproate. Deficiency can also occur from malnutrition, especially not getting enough lysine, methionine, folate, iron, vitamin C, B-3, B-6 and B-12. Red meat is the richest source of carnitine. Other foods that provide some carnitine include milk, chicken and fish.

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