Dietary L-carnitine affects periparturient nutrient metabolism and lactation in multiparous cows

D. B. Carlson, J. W. McFadden, A. D'Angelo, J. C. Woodworth, J. K. Drackley

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The objectives of this study were to determine the effects of dietary L-carnitine supplementation on liver lipid accumulation, hepatic nutrient metabolism, and lactation in multiparous cows during the periparturient period. Cows were assigned to treatments at d -25 relative to expected calving date and remained on the experiment until 56 d in milk. Treatments were 4 amounts of supplemental dietary carnitine: control (0 g/d of Lcarnitine; n = 14); low carnitine (LC, 6 g/d; n = 11); medium carnitine (MC, 50 g/d; n = 12); and high carnitine (HC, 100 g/d; n = 12). Carnitine was supplied by mixing a feed-grade carnitine supplement with 113.5 g of ground corn and 113.5 g of dried molasses, which was then fed twice daily as a topdress to achieve desired daily carnitine intakes. Carnitine supplementation began on d -14 relative to expected calving and continued until 21 d in milk. Liver and muscle carnitine concentrations were markedly increased by MC and HC treatments. Milk carnitine concentrations were elevated by all amounts of carnitine supplementation, but were greater for MC and HC than for LC during wk 2 of lactation. Dry matter intake and milk yield were decreased by the HC treatment. The MC and HC treatments increased milk fat concentration, although milk fat yield was unaffected. All carnitine treatments decreased liver total lipid and triacylglycerol accumulation on d 10 after calving. In addition, carnitine-supplemented cows had higher liver glycogen during early lactation. In general, carnitine supplementation increased in vitro palmitate β-oxidation by liver slices, with MC and HC treatments affecting in vitro palmitate metabolism more potently than did LC. In vitro conversion of Ala to glucose by liver slices was increased by carnitine supplementation independent of dose. The concentration of nonesterified fatty acids in serum was not affected by carnitine. As a result of greater hepatic fatty acid β-oxidation, plasma β-hydroxybutyric acid was higher for the MC and HC treatments. Serum insulin was greater for all carnitine treatments, although plasma glucose was unaffected. Plasma urea N was lower and plasma total protein was higher for the MC and HC treatments. By decreasing liver lipid accumulation and stimulating hepatic glucose output, carnitine supplementation might improve glucose status and diminish the risk of developing metabolic disorders during early lactation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3422-3441
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2007


  • Dairy cow
  • Hepatic metabolism
  • L-carnitine
  • Periparturient period

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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