Carnitine Absorption Study in Vegetarians

A few months ago a study was published on carnitine absorption in the muscles of vegetarians. Here is what I added to’s Vegan Weightlifting: What Does the Science Say?, which is where most of my info on carnitine resides (italics added to the new sentences):

“Carnitine levels tend to be lower in people eating lower fat, higher carbohydrate diets. When intake of carnitine is low, less carnitine is excreted. Vegans and lacto-ovo vegetarians have lower blood levels of carnitine. Researchers in one study did not think the lower carnitine levels of vegetarians were unhealthy. It is not known if the lower levels have any bearing on athletic performance. A 2011 study showed vegetarians’ muscles to have a lower ability to absorb carnitine than omnivores. Vegetarians also excreted less carnitine than omnivores, indicating that other tissues or muscles that were not tested were possibly absorbing the carnitine.

Some added thoughts:

This paper included two studies. In the first study, subjects were given both insulin and carnitine intravenously. The researchers thought the insulin would help enhance carnitine absorption. I would not rule out the possibility that the insulin might have confounded the study in terms of what normally would occur.

In the second study, subjects ate 3 g of carnitine in one dose and had their measurements taken about 24 hours later, only one time. This would give the body very little time to adapt to a larger carnitine intake.

Finally, it is still not clear that vegetarians’ lower levels of muscle carnitine have any physiological significance. I once supplemented with carnitine for a few days and experienced no noticeable health improvement (such as increased energy). But I do know of one person who did very poorly on a vegan diet until he started supplementing with carnitine.


Stephens FB, Marimuthu K, Cheng Y, Patel N, Constantin D, Simpson EJ, Greenhaff PL. Vegetarians have a reduced skeletal muscle carnitine transport capacity. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Sep;94(3):938-44. | Link

7 Responses to “Carnitine Absorption Study in Vegetarians”

  1. Pudziao Says:

  2. Marion Says:

    Does it matter what how of Carnitine? I take L Carnitine fumarate.

  3. Jack Norris RD Says:


    I’ve never seen any research on which sort of carnitine might be better (which is not to say that there isn’t any).

  4. Netik Says:

    Carnitine levels can be checked with a blood test: Isn’t that blood test good enough to show us if a carnitine supplement might be helpful?

    I’m wondering because my carnitine level seems fine but I am curious to know if it could improve my energy level.

  5. Jack Norris RD Says:


    I don’t know enough about plasma carnitine levels to know if there is a level at which you can safely conclude that supplementation would improve your energy level. My sense is that if you feel fine or if your levels seems fine, then supplementation is not going to help (unless it’s a placebo effect). In searching, I came across these resources that you might fine helpful:

  6. Jack Norris RD Says:


    I doubt there is a supplement out there that someone isn’t saying can help depression. If you Google carnitine and depression, plenty comes up. A search at PubMed does bring up some research, and here is a link to a Monograph on carnitine from Alternative Medicine Review:

    Click on the journal cover icon in the upper right. It has a section on depression and they seem to think it can be effective for some people.

  7. Derek Says:

    I’m sure you saw this re: carnitine/TMAO, but just in case:

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