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What Is L-Carnitine Tartrate?

author image Janet Renee, MS, RD
Janet Renee is a clinical dietitian with a special interest in weight management, sports dietetics, medical nutrition therapy and diet trends. She earned her Master of Science in nutrition from the University of Chicago and has contributed to health and wellness magazines, including Prevention, Self, Shape and Cooking Light.
What Is L-Carnitine Tartrate?
A young woman is performing an Olympic lift. Photo Credit: Bojan656/iStock/Getty Images

Carnitine tartrate is the supplement form of carnitine, a substance that plays a role in energy production. Your body typically makes enough carnitine to meet its needs. Therefore, it's not necessary for healthy adults to take carnitine supplements, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements. Nevertheless, due to its role in energy production, manufacturers market carnitine tartrate for sports performance and fat loss. Carnitine may provide benefits for heart patients. Consult your doctor before taking carnitine supplements.

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Role in Energy Production

Carnitine is found in almost all of your body's cells and is particularly concentrated in skeletal tissue. It plays a crucial role in helping your body burn, or oxidize, fat for fuel. So that your body can use fat as an energy source, carnitine transports long-chain fatty acids into specialized fuel manufacturing centers called mitochondria. Once inside, the mitochondria can burn the fatty acids to produce energy. In addition, carnitine transports toxic compounds out of the mitochondria to prevent accumulation.

Exercise Performance

Consistent evidence to support the use of carnitine for exercise performance has been lacking, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements, which cites studies from the 1990s up until 2005. However, recently published evidence appears to show potential benefit, according to a study published in the February 2011 issue of "The Journal of Physiology." The study examined carnitine tartrate supplementation on the exercise performance of healthy males. Researchers found carnitine supplementation led to 55 percent less muscle glycogen usage, 44 percent lower muscle lactate and other changes that resulted in improved exercise performance. Lactate is an enzyme that accumulates during exercise and can lead to fatigue, while glycogen is a storage form of sugar. These results suggest carnitine supplementation elicits changes associated with better exercise performance.

Potential Heart Benefit

The heart is a muscle that relies heavily on fatty acids for fuel, and carnitine levels are typically low when you have heart problems. Researchers reviewed existing clinical trials to determine whether carnitine supplementation benefited those with heart conditions. They found carnitine reduces the development of angina by 40 percent and ventricular arrhythmia by 65 percent, according to the results published in the June 2013 issue of the journal "Mayo Clinic Proceedings." Ventricular arrhythmias are irregular heart rhythms associated with a heart attack, and angina is the chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart.

Carnitine Supplement Safety

Talk to your doctor before taking carnitine if you have an existing medical condition. Taking carnitine may cause side effects such as nausea, diarrhea, abdominal cramps and vomiting at doses of 3 grams per day, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements. Rare side effects include increased appetite, body odor and rash. The typical dose of carnitine is between 1 and 3 grams per day, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.

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