By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 30 March 2012)
Carnitine, which is critical to energy production (turning fat into energy), as well as helping to reduce oxidative stress, has two forms: D and L. L-carnitine is the active form and it can be found naturally in certain foods including red meats (especially lamb), dairy products, fish, poultry, tempeh, wheat, asparagus, avocados, and peanut butter. Carnitine is produced by the kidneys and liver, and is stored in the brain, heart, and muscles. Carnitine deficiency symptoms include muscle weakness and hypoglycaemia.
Carnitine Supplements as a Complementary Therapy
Carnitine supplements have been used to treat a variety of conditions, including angina and other heart problems, diabetic neuropathy, Alzheimer’s disease, male infertility, chronic fatigue syndrome, and hyperthyroidism, with varying degrees of success.
Filipek et al. (2004) found autistic children to be carnitine-deficient, possibly due to mitochondrial dysfunction.
L-carnitine supplementation shows some promise in treating Rett syndrome, a less common autistic disorder, but there is no information regarding its efficacy for treating the symptoms of other autistic spectrum disorders (WebPediatrics.com, 14 October 2011). Carnitine also shows promise for treating attention deficit disorder (ADD), a condition that often accompanies autism (Strickland & McCloskey, year).
Jepson and Johnson (2007) assert that carnitine supplements are a relatively safe way of remedying a deficiency in autistic children, assuming that the child is truly deficient. However, you should always consult a qualified medical practitioner before taking supplements or giving them to your child. Many supplements are toxic at certain doses and may interact with some medications or create problems for people with certain medical conditions.
Other Autism Supplements
For more on the effectiveness of other supplements for treating autistic spectrum disorders, see the main Autism Supplements page. For a full list of articles on autism and Asperger’s syndrome, visit the main Autistic Spectrum Disorders page.
This article is not intended as a substitute for medical consultation or care. Health concerns should be referred to a doctor.
- Autism Canada Foundation. (2011). “Carnitine.” AutismCanada.org.
- Filipek, P.A.; Juranek, J.; Nguyen, M.T.; Cummings, C.; & Gargus, J.J. (2004). “Relative Carnitine Deficiency in Autism.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 34(6), pp. 615-623.
- Jepson, B., & Johnson, J. (2007). Changing the Course of Autism: A Scientific Approach for Parents and Physicians. First Sentient Publications.
- University of Maryland Medical Center. (2011). “Carnitine (L-Carnitine).” UMM.edu.
- WebPediatrics.com. (14 October 2011). “Autism and Autistic Spectrum Disorders.”