Acetyl-L-Carnitine and Kidney Disease

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Acetyl L-carnitine, commonly known as carnitine, is an amino acid produced in your liver and kidneys and stored in your muscles, brain, heart and sperm. Carnitine plays an essential role in the oxidation of fat for use as energy and in other important metabolic functions. People with kidney disease may not manufacture enough carnitine to meet metabolic needs, and may need to make dietary adjustments to ensure an ample supply.

Kidney Function

Your kidneys are bean-shaped organs located below your ribs on either side of your spine. The function of the kidneys is to filter waste products from your blood and eliminate them as urine. Each day, your kidneys filter about 200 quarts of blood, eliminating upwards of 2 quarts of water and waste. Waste comes from the natural breakdown of body tissue and from the food you eat, and is filtered in small units in the kidneys called nephrons. In people with diseased kidneys, the nephrons lose their ability to filter waste, resulting in a toxic buildup in the bloodstream. Diabetes and high blood pressure are the two most common causes of kidney failure.


L-carnitine is a derivative of the essential amino acid, lysine. The name carnitine is derived from the latin root "carnus" because it is found in abundant supply in red meat. Your body generally makes ample amounts of L-carnitine to meet metabolic needs. L-carnitine is an important structural component of cell membranes and functions to transfer long-chain fatty acids through the mitochondrial barrier of muscle cells so that they can be oxidized and burned for energy.

Kidney Disease and L-Carnitine

An Italian study of the history of L-carnitine published in January 2003 in the "Journal of Renal Nutrition" examines the critical role L-carnitine plays in metabolism, and explains the mechanisms by which patients with diseased kidneys become deficient. While a primary cause is a hereditary inability to produce sufficient L-carnitine, secondary causes include insufficient production, excessive excretion and loss during dialysis in diseased kidneys. The scientists note that supplementation of L-carnitine in kidney patients resulted in increased physical function, including improved muscle function, improved blood pressure and improved function of red blood cells.

Managing Kidney Disease

There is no cure for chronic kidney disease; however, there are steps you can take to help your kidneys function to their full capacities. Managing blood pressure and blood sugar are important, as are regular visits to your doctor. Your health care provider will make dietary recommendations to reduce the stress placed by food on your kidneys. Before you attempt to supplement with L-carnitine, consult your health care provider.