Cancer chemotherapy is continually being refined. Many chemotherapy drugs successfully treat tumors, but they also have severe side effects. Can carnitine (L-carnitine) supplements prevent some of these side effects?

MM Sayed-Ahmed, with King Saud University’s Department of Pharmacology, College of Pharmacy, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, reviewed the role that the amino acid carnitine has in cancer chemotherapy-induced multiple organ toxicity.

Chemotherapy has some extreme side effects, which can greatly reduce quality of life. Nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite make the patient feel weak. Numbness and muscle and joint pain are also distressing common side effects.

Even worse, some chemotherapy can lead to life-threatening multiple organ toxicity. It’s not usually the anticancer activity of the chemotherapy drugs which cause organ toxicity, but because the chemotherapy drugs affect the absorption of other nutrients.

If carnitine cannot be absorbed and therefore used by the body, the patient develops a carnitine deficiency. And patients with cancer cachexia—the extreme wasting, muscle loss caused by the cancer—are at particular risk from carnitine deficiencies. Cancer cachexia patients are not getting enough nutrition.

Carnitine is found in red meat and dairy products. It’s also found in soybeans, wheat, and avocados. And the active form, it is readily available as a supplement.

Carnitine affects fatty acids and energy production. It also reduces blood triglycerides and cholesterol.

Carnitine depletion leads to toxicity

The anticancer chemotherapy drugs are crucially important, often the only means to treat the cancer. So preventing carnitine deficiency is a key goal. Supplementation with this amino acid, and carefully monitored levels, are necessary to reduce the toxic effects of chemotherapy. Carnitine supplementation does not affect the anticancer activities of the chemotherapy.

The review concluded that carnitine is depleted by several anticancer chemotherapy drugs, and carnitine supplementation must be considered to prevent multiple organ toxicity.

Sources:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23960728