Potential Benefits and Risks of Dietary Nucleotides
You are what you eat–there may be more truth to the phrase than we realize. Nucleotides are organic molecules found in most of the foods that we eat. Our body then uses these nucleotides to build our DNA. Research is finding that certain people may benefit from nucleotide supplements. Read on to learn about the potential health benefits and the evidence behind them.
What are Nucleotides?
Nucleotides are organic compounds that are essential in all living organisms. They act as building blocks for DNA and RNA, which contain all of our genetic information.
Nucleotides also play a critical role in metabolism and energy. They transport energy in the form of ATP to power different parts of the cell. This energy is used to create new proteins, cells, and other vital components [R+].
There are several different ways we obtain nucleotides. The primary source is from our own bodies. The human body naturally produces nucleotides by either creating them from scratch or salvaging parts from cells [R].
Food is another important source of nucleotides. They are naturally found in meats, fruits, and vegetables. Foods that have high cell density (organ meats, fish, and seeds) contain the highest nucleotide levels [R+].
Nucleotide supplements are also available. Normally, we receive all the nucleotides we need from our body and diet. However, we may need additional nucleotides when our bodies are stressed — possibly from infection, injury, or rapid growth [R].
Areas in the body that experience a high turnover of cells may benefit the most from nucleotides. Cells in the immune system, liver, and gut tend to have very short lives and new cells must be constantly made. This results in a high demand for nucleotides in these areas of the body [R].
- Naturally found in food
- Boost the immune system
- May help repair the liver and gut
- May help with IBS
- May reduce the stress response from exercise
- Minimal side effects
- Not well studied in humans
Each nucleotide consists of 3 main parts: a sugar molecule, a nitrogen-containing base, and a phosphate group [R+].
The sugar molecule acts as a backbone for the nucleotide. Depending on the chemical structure of the sugar molecule, it is classified as either ribose or deoxyribose. Ribose is used to build RNA, while deoxyribose is used in DNA [R+].
Attached to one side of the sugar molecule is a phosphate group. The phosphate group helps link the sugar molecule to other nucleotides, allowing them to form long chains. Phosphate groups can also provide energy when multiple ones are attached [R+].
The nitrogen-containing base is attached to the other side of the sugar molecule. In our DNA there are 4 types of nitrogen bases, represented by the letters A, T, C, and G. These different bases form the genetic language of our DNA. We have all the same bases in our RNA as in our DNA except for one: in RNA, the base labeled as T is replaced by U [R+].
All in all, this gives us 5 bases for nucleotides:
- A: Adenine (makes adenosine) [R]
- T: Thymine (makes thymidine) [R]
- C: Cytosine (makes cytidine) [R]
- G: Guanine (makes guanosine) [R]
- U: Uracil (makes uridine) [R]
If there is no phosphate group, the molecule is called a nucleoside (indicated in parentheses above, e.g. adenosine). Basically, your body uses these nucleosides only to make nucleotides [R+].
Supplements can contain a mix of all 5 nucleotides if they’re a DNA/RNA complex. This means that they should have all the following:
- Adenosine Monophosphate (AMP)
- Thymidine monophosphate (TMP)
- Cytidine Monophosphate (CMP)
- Guanosine Monophosphate (GMP)
- Uridine Monophosphate (UMP)
If the supplement is RNA-only, then it won’t have TMP. Some nucleotides like UMP are also sold individually.
Mechanism of Action
Our bodies have two ways of creating nucleotides. The first pathway involves building brand new ones from amino acids. Creating nucleotides like this requires a lot of energy [R+].
The salvage pathway creates nucleotides from pre-built nucleosides and bases. This method requires far less energy and is preferred by areas of the body that have high nucleotide demands, like the gut [R].
Food is another important source of nucleotides. Our stomachs contain enzymes that break down proteins and cells into nucleotides. We also have enzymes that convert nucleotides to nucleosides, which are better absorbed [R+].
Once nucleotides are created by the body or absorbed from food, they can be used for a variety of functions. Multiple nucleotides can be chained together to form strands of DNA. Nucleotides can also be converted to other forms that help in metabolism and regulation [R+].
1) Immune System Boost
Nucleotides may be particularly effective in the immune system, where cell turnover is high. Some cells in the immune system live for only 1-3 days, meaning new cells need to be constantly created. Nucleotides can provide ready-to-use parts, saving the body time and energy [R+].
Human research on nucleotides and the immune system is mainly focused on infants. This is because infants, especially premature newborns, require nucleotides to develop properly. Milk provides most of the nucleotides that babies need, but extra supplementation may be beneficial [R+].
The benefits for infants include:
- Increasing antibodies, T cells, and natural killer cells in the body [R, R, R]
- Reducing diarrhea [R]
- Promoting growth of good bacteria [R]
- Improving vaccine effectiveness [R]
Very few studies have looked at the immune system benefits of nucleotides in adults. One small study of 20 men examined the effects of strenuous exercise on the immune system. They found nucleotides can increase the level of lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell [R].
2) Liver Repair
Our liver performs a variety of key functions including detoxification and metabolism. In fact, the liver is responsible for creating and breaking down the sugars, fats, and proteins in our body. Nucleotides, which also play a role metabolism, are very active in the liver [R].
Animal studies show that a nucleotide-supplemented diet improves the composition of the liver. In one mouse study, a supplemented diet changed the fat and cholesterol content in the liver. A study in rats shows that nucleotides can lower lab markers (ALT and AST) that indicate liver disease [R, R, R].
3) Digestive System Health
The digestive system is another area in the body where cells have a quick turnover. Because our stomach is an acidic environment, the cells in our gut have to be constantly renewed. Several animal studies show that nucleotide supplements may assist with this cell rebuilding [R].
Our intestines have special structures called villi that help absorb nutrients. Research shows that nucleotides can promote villi growth, potentially improving nutrient absorption. According to one small study, rats that were given nucleotide precursors had 25% larger villi [R, R].
4) Help with IBS
IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) can be a difficult condition to treat. One clinical trial of 37 people found that nucleotides can improve IBS symptoms by 4-6%. They also found that nucleotides are most effective for stomach pain and incomplete bowel movement [R].
5) Reduce Stress Response from Exercise
It’s obvious that exercise has wonderful benefits for our bodies. However, exercise also causes a stress response that can suppress our immune system [R].
A different study of 14 men found a similar cortisol-lowering effect after moderate endurance exercise [R].
6) Promote Growth
Nucleotides provide essential components that the body needs to build new cells. It may come as no surprise that nucleotides can potentially promote growth as well.
7) May Extend Life Span
Research has found that rats live longer when their diets are supplemented with nucleotides. A study found that dietary nucleotides increased the average life span of rats. There was also a significant decrease in tumor-related deaths. Researchers believe this effect may be due to the antioxidant properties of nucleotides [R].
8) Improve Memory and Learning
The brain is another area in the body that requires a healthy supply of nucleotides. Based on one study, dietary nucleotides may help the brain by improving memory. Old and young mice perform better on memory tests when they are given nucleotide supplements [R].
In addition, rats on a nucleotide-supplemented diet were better at learning tasks. The researchers found that these rats metabolize fat in the brain differently. This may, in part, explain the improved learning ability [R].
9) Cancer Prevention
Nucleotides may be closely linked to cancer development. An insufficient supply of nucleotides can negatively impact DNA replication and stability. This DNA instability could potentially allow cancer cells to develop [R].
One cell study shows that nucleosides can repair DNA damage. This reduced the transformation of normal cells to cancerous ones [R].
On the other hand, nucleotides can increase cell growth and blocking nucleotide metabolism can suppress tumors [R]. So if an individual already has cancer, they should be cautious about taking nucleotide supplements.
Side Effects & Precautions
Currently, research has not evaluated the side effects of nucleotide supplements.
Most clinical trials do not include side effect information. Studies that do include this information generally report zero side effects. This includes data from infants and adults. Animal studies also report minimal side effects [R, R, R].
The safety and long-term effects of nucleotide supplements have not been studied.
One possible area of concern is in people who cannot break down nucleotides properly. Uric acid is a possible by-product of nucleotide metabolism. Consuming high amounts of nucleotides can theoretically increase uric acid levels, which could lead to gout [R+].
Limitations and Caveats
Many believe that nucleotides are safe because they are naturally found in food. However, few studies have evaluated the safety, side effects, and drug interactions of supplements.
Dosage, Foods & Supplements
A healthy diet typically provides about 1-2 g of nucleotides each day. However, it can be difficult to keep track of intake as the USDA does not list the nucleotide content inside food [R+].
Overall, foods with the highest amount of nucleotides are [R+]:
- Meats in general, but particularly organ meats
- Fruits and vegetables, especially the seeds
As far as nucleotide supplements go, the optimal dose is unknown. In one exercise study of 20 male athletes, a dose of 480 mg per day was used. A different study of IBS patients used a dose of 500 mg that was taken 3 times a day [R, R].
Studies in infants generally try to mirror the nucleotide content found in milk. Human milk contains about 70 mg/L of nucleotides. In the United States, the maximum amount allowed in baby formula is 16 mg/100 kcal [R, R, R, R+].
Nucleotide supplements are available for purchase in a variety of doses. Doses can range from 100-500 mg, taken 1-3 times a day depending on the manufacturer.
These supplements are available as:
- Liposomal DNA/RNA complex
- Capsules or tablets
- Only uridine (uridine monophosphate or UMP)
- Adenosine (adenosine monophosphate or AMP)
- RNA-only complex
- Nucleotides complex with antioxidant plants, vitamins, and/or amino acids
- High-RNA, high-protein powders from vegetable greens
Liposomal formulations generally have better bioavailability, but this hasn’t been tested with nucleotides yet [R].
Reviews & User Experiences
Users of nucleotide supplements tend to leave positive reviews. Many claim they receive an energy boost. They also appear to be popular for their immune system benefits. Some users like to take nucleotides at the first sign of a cold or flu to prevent infections.
Negative reviews primarily come from users who saw no results when taking nucleotide supplements.
I found nucleotide supplements mostly stimulating, but they also have a sedating side. I think the stimulating aspect could be because the nucleotide adenine may stimulate thyroid hormone release [R].
Uridine (UMP) is more relaxing and I occasionally take it at night before bed, so I’m pretty sure it doesn’t cause the wakefulness in nucleotide supplements. Most nucleotides include uridine and there’s some research to support it for cognitive function.
AMP contains adenosine, which is also used as a drug to induce sleep. This is probably what accounts for the tiredness I feel amidst the stimulation.
My experience thus far has been positive. I notice a marked increase in physical performance and healing when I take them. I find them beneficial when my body is stressed in some way, such as when I’m not getting enough sleep, when I’m overworked or when I’m exercising more. I take them if I feel I’m coming down with some infection.
Buy Nucleotide Complex Supplements
Nucleotides are organic compounds that are naturally found in most of the foods we eat. Our body also produces nucleotides by itself. They are used to create DNA as well as regulate energy.
We get plenty of nucleotides from our diet and body. However, areas in the body that experience a lot of cell growth may benefit from additional nucleotides. Newborn infants can also potentially benefit from supplements.
Research suggests nucleotides may boost the immune system and repair the liver and intestines. They also may promote growth, improve memory, and have cancer-fighting properties. However, all these health benefits are supported by limited studies.
Nucleotide supplements are generally regarded as safe, but research has not fully evaluated their safety yet.