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 are also critical 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.
The human body naturally produces nucleotides by either creating them from scratch or salvaging parts from cells.
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.
Nucleotide supplements are also available.
Normally, we receive all the nucleotides we need from our body and diet or food intake. Studies suggest that we may need additional nucleotides when our bodies are stressed – possibly from infection, injury, or during rapid growth. However, the evidence is still insufficient to support supplementation in these instances. More studies are being conducted.
Scientists note that areas in the body that experience a high turnover of cells may benefit the most from nucleotides. Anecdotally, nucleotides improve the immune system and repair cells in the liver and gut.
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, at least in animal experiments.
Snapshot of Benefits:
- Naturally found in food, especially meats.
- Claimed to boost the immune system
- May support liver and gut health
- May reduce the stress response from exercise
- Nucleotide Building Blocks
Each nucleotide consists of 3 main parts: a sugar molecule, a nitrogen-containing base, and a phosphate group.
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.
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.
All in all, this gives us 5 bases for nucleotides:
- A: Adenine (makes adenosine)
- T: Thymine (makes thymidine)
- C: Cytosine (makes cytidine)
- G: Guanine (makes guanosine)
- U: Uracil (makes uridine)
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.
How Are Nucleotides Created?
Our bodies create nucleotides in three ways.
The first way involves building brand new ones from amino acids. Creating nucleotides through this pathway requires a lot of energy.
The other way is through the salvage pathway and this method requires far less energy and is preferred by areas of the body that have high nucleotide demands, like the gut.
Food is another important source of nucleotides and 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.
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.
Potential Health Benefits of Nucleotides
1) Immune Support
Scientists think that nucleotides may help support 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.
The evidence is very strong that taking nucleotide supplements strengthens the immune system. Many studies show that dietary nucleotides lead to higher levels of antibodies. For example in one study on athletes, the volunteers were divided into two groups, one group was given a nucleotide supplement for 14 days. At the end of the trial the group taking supplementary nucleotides showed significantly higher levels of immune system markers such as higher serum immunoglobulin A (IgA) levels, higher natural killer cell counts, and bacteria toxic activities. The volunteers taking dietary nucleotides also had higher levels of secretory IgA in their saliva.
These results were confirmed by other studies. For example in a trial conducted by a team from Hull University, fourteen male volunteers were divided into two groups, one given supplementary nucleotides while the second one was given a placebo. The trial lasted sixty days and studied how the effect of endurance exercise on the immune response is modulated. At the end of the study period both groups undertook a session of endurance cycling, and the level of secretory immunoglobulin A antibodies (sIgA) in their saliva were tested. Although exercise naturally dampens the immune response, the levels of secretory IgA in the saliva of volunteers taking supplementary nucleotides was significantly higher than in the placebo group.
2) The Stress Response from Exercise
It’s obvious that exercise has wonderful benefits for our bodies. However, exercise also sets off a stress response that can suppress our immune system.
In one study of 20 people, nucleotides reduced cortisol levels after heavy resistance exercise. Cortisol is a hormone that the body releases in times of stress.
A different study of 14 men found a similar cortisol-lowering effect of nucleotides after moderate endurance exercise.
Therefore, nucleotides reduce the stress levels, by reducing cortisol levels during exercise.
3) Liver Function
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 in metabolism, are very active in the liver.
Animal studies suggest 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. In rats, nucleotides lowered lab markers that indicate liver damage or disease.
Nucleotides are likely to help in cirrhosis, a condition caused by chronic liver injury. Based on animal studies, dietary nucleotides may reduce liver scarring and increase liver activity.
4) 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 suggest that nucleotide supplements may assist with this cell rebuilding.
Our intestines have special structures called villi that help absorb nutrients. Research shows that nucleotides might promote villi growth, potentially improving nutrient absorption. According to one study, rats that were given nucleotide precursors had 25% larger villi.
Nucleotide-supplemented diets are also being researched for helping repair the gut after injury. Based on rat studies, they might help recover the damage caused by malnutrition, organ transplant, and chronic diarrhea. Clinical trials are needed.
A small clinical trial found that nucleotides may improve Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms by 4-6%. The scientist suggest that nucleotides are most effective for stomach pain and incomplete bowel movement.
6) Healthspan & Lifespan
A study shows that rats live longer when their diets are supplemented with nucleotides, suggesting that dietary nucleotides may increase the average lifespan of rats and decrease tumor-related deaths. Researchers believe this effect may be due to the antioxidant properties of nucleotides.
7) Memory and Learning
The brain is another area in the body that requires a healthy supply of nucleotides and a study showed that dietary nucleotides may help the brain by improving memory. Old and young mice perform better on memory tests when they are given nucleotide supplements.
Furthermore, rats on a nucleotide-supplemented diet were better at learning tasks. The researchers found that these rats metabolize fat in the brain differently. Some scientists hypothesize that this may, in part, explain the improved learning ability.
Nucleotides Dosage, Foods & Supplements
A healthy diet typically provides about 1-2 g of nucleotides each day.
Overall, foods with the highest amount of nucleotides are:
- Meats in general, but particularly organ meats
- Fruits and vegetables, especially the seeds
Nucleotide supplements are available for purchase in a variety of doses. Doses can range from 100-300 mg, taken 1-3 times a day.
A review of the role of nucleotides in the immune system:
The effect of nucleotides on cellular immunity and antibody production: