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L-carnitine, a friend or foe for cardiovascular disease? A Mendelian randomization study.

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Burgess, Stephen 
Fan, Bohan 
Schooling, C Mary 


BACKGROUND: L-carnitine is emerging as an item of interest for cardiovascular disease (CVD) prevention and treatment, but controversy exists. To examine the effectiveness and safety of L-carnitine, we assessed how genetically different levels of L-carnitine are associated with CVD risk and its risk factors. Given higher CVD incidence and L-carnitine in men, we also examined sex-specific associations. METHODS: We used Mendelian randomization to obtain unconfounded estimates. Specifically, we used genetic variants to predict L-carnitine, and obtained their associations with coronary artery disease (CAD), ischemic stroke, heart failure, and atrial fibrillation, as well as CVD risk factors (type 2 diabetes, glucose, HbA1c, insulin, lipid profile, blood pressure and body mass index) in large consortia and established cohorts, as well as sex-specific association in the UK Biobank. We obtained the Wald estimates (genetic association with CVD and its risk factors divided by the genetic association with L-carnitine) and combined them using inverse variance weighting. In sensitivity analysis, we used different analysis methods robust to pleiotropy and replicated using an L-carnitine isoform, acetyl-carnitine. RESULTS: Genetically predicted L-carnitine was nominally associated with higher risk of CAD overall (OR 1.07 per standard deviation (SD) increase in L-carnitine, 95% CI 1.02 to 1.11) and in men (OR 1.09, 95% CI 1.02 to 1.16) but had a null association in women (OR 1.00, 95% CI 0.92 to 1.09). These associations were also robust to different methods and evident for acetyl-carnitine. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings do not support a beneficial association of L-carnitine with CVD and its risk factors but suggest potential harm. L-carnitine may also exert a sex-specific role in CAD. Consideration of the possible sex disparity and exploration of the underlying pathways would be worthwhile.



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BioMed Central
Wellcome Trust (204623/Z/16/Z)