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Carnitine is found in nearly all cells of the body and plays a critical role in energy production. It transports long-chain fatty acids into the mitochondria to be oxidized (“burned”) to produce energy. It also transports the toxic compounds generated out of this cellular organelle to prevent their accumulation. Given these key functions, carnitine is concentrated in tissues like skeletal and cardiac muscles that utilize fatty acids as a dietary fuel.

There are studies that show that some individuals with autism cannot make enough carnitine, as their liver and kidneys don’t produce sufficient amounts from the amino acids lysine and methionine. For these individuals, carnitine is a conditionally essential nutrient.

Carnitine occurs in two forms, known as D and L, which are mirror images (isomers) of each other. Only L-carnitine is active in the body and is the form found in food.


  • Rebouche CJ. Carnitine. In: Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease, 9th Edition (edited by Shils ME, Olson JA, Shike M, Ross, AC). Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, New York, 1999, pp. 505-12.
  • The editors. Carnitine: lessons from one hundred years of research. Ann NY Acad Sci 2004;1033:ix-xi.
  • National Research Council. Food and Nutrition Board. Recommended Dietary Allowances, 10th Edition. National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 1989.
  • Rebouche CJ. Kinetics, pharmacokinetics, and regulation of L-carnitine and acetyl-L-carnitine metabolism. Ann NY Acad Sci 2004;1033:30-41.
  • Filipek, PA, Juranek J., Nguyen MT, et al., 2004. “Relative carnitine deficiency in autism.” J Autism Dev Disord. 2004 Dec;34(6):615-23.


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