L-carnitine helped reduce fatigue, improve mood, and increased quality of sleep in those with advanced cancer, in a new study.

L-carnitine helps create energy in the body by transporting fatty acids to the “power plant” (energy factory) located in the center of most cells, known as mitochondria. Because the body produces L-carnitine, an amino acid, it is rare for people to be deficient in this nutrient. However, if the body is out of balance, as in the case with cancer, L-carnitine may be deficient.

Doctors from the Department of Pain Medicine and Palliative Care, Beth Israel Medical Center, New York, New York, conducted an open-label trial – where researchers and participants know what treatment they are taking – including 27 adults with advanced cancer who were deficient in L-carnitine. All participants needed frequent physical assistance and medical care, had disturbed sleep, symptoms of depression, and fatigue. Doctors noted fatigue is primary symptom in cancer, and wanted to see if L-carnitine is safe, whether patients can tolerate it, and what dosage is best. 

The researchers divided participants into seven groups of three or more, who took 250 mg, 750 mg, 1,750 mg, 2,250 mg, 2,750 mg, or 3,000 mg of L-carnitine, twice per day for seven days. Combining the results for all doses, participants reported an average 40% decrease in fatigue, an average 30% decrease in sleeplessness, and an average 35% decrease in depression symptoms. None of the participants experienced any significant side effects, and there were no reported toxicities.

Reference: Journal of Pain and Symptom Management: December, 2006; Vol, 32, No. 6, 551-9.