L-Carnitine Doesn’t Always Burn Fat.

What this article is all about: In this article I discuss why the popular fat loss ingredient L-Carnitine may not work for everyone in burning body-fat

L-Carnitine has been around for ages. Carnitine was a big in the 90s, the time when I took my first steps into the supplements and nutrition world.

Carnitine was promoted as a fat loss agent. It was in all the magazines.

As a neophyte at that time I visited every pharmacy in Mauritius in search of pure L-Carnitine, to no avail.

I then found an amino acid tablet made by BodyPower, the leading UK supplement brand at the time. It contained something like a tiny 20mg Carnitine per serving.

I was ecstatic! That, I thought, was probably what Dorian Yates was using. Exactly what I needed.

Sadly, the Carnitine fat burner hype didn’t last long because Ephedra-based formulations (e.g. ECA stack) took the market by storm. 

Carnitine, as a fat burner, faded into oblivion.  

The comeback of Carnitine

Interestingly, Carnitine has made a strong comeback in fitness product lines some 3-4 years ago. Almost every brand today has a carnitine supplement, usually in liquid format. 

Supplementing with Carnitine can help the body in many ways. We will look at these in another article. But, brands choose the fat burning narrative to market the ingredient, for obvious reasons. The weight loss market segment is a large and lucrative one. 

However, fat burning appears to be the least reliable function of L-Carnitine. It doesn’t always work.

The role of carnitine in fat burning

The idea that Carnitine can help burn fat comes from the fact that Carnitine is involved in the transport of fats for burning inside cells. 

Inside cells are structures called mitochondria (singular=mitochondrion). These are “powerhouses” or “energy furnaces” of cells as the body’s energy is produced there from the food we eat. 

Fats are also burned inside mitochondria via a process called Beta-oxidation

However, for the fat to reach the mitochondria, they first need to be bound to carnitine.

The carnitine-bound fat is then moved into the mitochondria via a special transporter called carnitine palmitoyl transferase (CPT-1).

There you have it, Carnitine is important as it binds to fat to enable its transport for burning inside mitochondria. 

Taking more Carnitine= more fat burning?

In spite of the importance of Carnitine in fat burning, taking the supplement does not always lead to greater fat burning. 

Taking Carnitine can help only if one is deficient in Carnitine to begin with. In this case, supplementation brings some kind of “rescue effect”.

If your Carnitine levels are already normal, taking more carnitine will not give you any fat burning result.

Will you be wasting your money, though?

The answer is no. Because Carnitine plays many other roles in exercise and health, which I will deal with in another article.

If you are carnitine status is adequate, don’t get your hopes too high on that carnitine supplement to make you shredded. Your best bet is to look on the side of your diet, exercise and energy/ caloric intake.

Why do supplement companies market Carnitine as a fat burner then?

As I said, supplement companies love to promote the fat burning angle for carnitine.

This is a purely business decision rather than a scientifically-guided, even if the companies claim to be scientific. This is because the weight loss market base is huge.

Also, the Carnitine spokesperson who is ripped to shreds is probably on something else that gave him the results, combined with the work he is putting in. 

When can one be deficient in Carnitine?

One can be deficient in Carnitine in the following cases:

  • Veganism and vegetarianism: non-meat foods are very low in carnitine. Supplementation is helpful.
  • Older age
  • Impaired carnitine utilization
  • Dialysis: dialysis can cause a loss of carnitine. 

The take-home messages:

  • Carnitine supplements can help you burn fat if you are deficient in carnitine.
  • If your carnitine levels are normal then taking carnitine won’t help you lose more fat.
  • If you are vegan/ vegetarian or have a low intake of meat, you may consider including carnitine to your supplement regimen. 
  • Carnitine is useful in several other contexts. It is not an entirely useless supplement, unlike many others. 

Stay tuned for my next carnitine article where I will cover the benefits of carnitine supplements. 

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Medical disclaimer
The information presented on this website is intended for adults 18 or over. Its aim is purely educational and does not constitute medical advice. Please consult a medical or health professional before you begin any program related to exercise, nutrition, or supplementation especially if you have a medical condition. If you consume any product mentioned on our site, you do so on your own free will, and you knowingly and voluntarily accept the risks.  © 2020. Veeraj Goyaram

About the author

Veeraj Goyaram, MSc Med (Exercise/ Nutr. Science)

My name is Veeraj Goyaram. I am a full time supplements guy and make my living in the world of nutritional supplements.

I am a nutritional product scientist by profession, meaning I create innovative nutritional supplements in the lab (food technology side) based on what I know about the human body and nutrients that affect it.

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