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Nutritional Disorder: What is Carnitine Deficiency and What You Can Do About it

Carnitine is defined as a naturally occurring hydrophilic amino acid derivative which originates in the kidneys and liver and is derived from meat and dairy products in the diet including beef, chicken, milk, cheese, salmon and avocado. It is what the body uses to process fats and produce energy— in layman’s term, this substance acts as a small shuttle bus by transporting fatty acids to the little energy factories of all cells, or as what we call, the mitochondria.

To start the ball rolling, carnitine deficiency is basically defined as a metabolic state wherein carnitine concentrations in tissues and plasma are less than the required level for the normal function of the organism. Want to know more about the causes and other information about this nutritional disorder? Then read more for further digging of this deficiency.

Carnitine Deficiency

What is Carnitine Deficiency?

First things first, carnitine deficiency’s basic definition was stated before. However, it’s good to know what carnitine deficiency really is, right? So let’s start with how it works within our body.

Since carnitine is a natural substance within the body which uses fats to produce energy, the deficiency of carnitine makes it unable to produce enough amount of carnitine nutrients available to the cells in the body. As carnitine is reduced, cells like muscle cells that rely on fatty acids for energy use starts to work poorly. Which is why carnitine deficiency may cause muscle weakness and liver or heart problems.

Now, there are two types of carnitine deficiency, one is the Primary Carnitine Deficiency, and the second one is the Secondary Carnitine Deficiency. Here is the two type’s definition:

Primary Carnitine Deficiency

This type of carnitine deficiency is rare and is due to an abnormal gene. The abnormal gene causes an issue with the substance that carries carnitine inside the blood cells. In some cases, this disorder only leads to low carnitine levels in the body’s muscle wherein the body cannot use certain fats for energy, especially if the person is fasting.

If the heart or the liver is affected then it may be called systemic carnitine deficiency. This is also known as carnitine uptake defect.

Secondary Carnitine Deficiency

This the most common condition and is unlike the primary wherein the problem is getting the carnitine into cells. The problem in this condition lies in the lack of carnitine in the blood, which can result from a number of medical problems.

what is Carnitine Deficiency

What are the Symptoms of Carnitine Deficiency?

The primary condition shows more severe symptoms than the secondary. Children with the primary condition tend to show symptoms within the first few years of their life, while in some cases, the symptoms may begin as an adult.

Symptoms may vary from mild to severe and can happen differently in each person. There are also symptoms that may appear during a lot of exercises, skipping meals, or illness. This condition’s symptoms may include:

  • Decreased or floppy muscle tone or muscle weakness
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Delayed motor (movement) development
  • Poor feeding in an infant
  • Swelling or shortness of breath, if the heart is affected
  • Symptoms of low blood sugar if the liver is affected

carnitine deficiency symptoms

What are the other causes of Carnitine Deficiency?

As mentioned, there are a variety of medical conditions that can cause the secondary condition which causes carnitine deficiency in the body since they may cause the body to absorb less from food. Here are the medical issues that may cause this condition:

  • Certain medication, such as valproate
  • Liver disease, Kidney disease, especially with dialysis
  • Gastrointestinal disease that causes the body to absorb poorly
  • Malnutrition
  • Mitochondrial disease
  • Certain metabolic disorders

What Can You Do About It?

The secondary is due to various reasons like dietary intake, excess losses, increased requirements, enzyme deficiencies. With this, avoid fasting and having strenuous exercises. On the other hand, some people require supplementation to make up of the needed carnitine such as the carnitor, which can be bought at your local pharmacy and might procure with a carnitor coupon. Lastly, look out for your diet based on your complications and your body’s needs since what you eat greatly impacts your treatment with this condition.


Since carnitine deficiency takes up two types, your action against this condition will vary on which category you belong in. If symptoms are showing, your first option should be is to go to your doctor so that you’ll know what to do, and if the conditions already run in your family then go see a genetic specialist.

Lastly, do not leave it untreated since carnitine deficiency might lead to more serious health issues such as heart and liver complications.

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Could you have Carnitine Deficiency

Disclosure: This is in no way medical advice, always seek an opinion from your doctor. For more information, please read my disclosure policy.

Eva Lewis