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. Can certain people 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 [ 1+ ].
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 [ 2 ].
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 [ 2+ ].
Nucleotide supplements are also available. However, these supplements have not been approved by the FDA for medical use. Supplements generally lack solid clinical research. Regulations set manufacturing standards for them but don’t guarantee that they’re safe or effective. Speak with your doctor before supplementing.
Normally, we receive all the nucleotides we need from our body and diet. Limited studies suggest that we may need additional nucleotides when our bodies are stressed – possibly from infection, injury, or during rapid growth. The evidence is still insufficient to support supplementation in these instances [ 2 ].
Some scientists hypothesize that 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, at least in animal experiments. Human data are lacking [ 3 ].
Few studies have explored the purported benefits of nucleotide supplements. Anecdotally, nucleotides improve the immune system and repair cells in the liver and gut. Clinical trials are needed to verify these claims [ 1+ , 2 ]. Snapshot
Naturally found in food
Claimed to boost the immune system
May support liver and gut health
Not well studied in humans
Long-term safety and side effects unknown
May increase uric acid levels
Effects of specific nucleotides mostly unexplored
Nucleotide Building Blocks
Each nucleotide consists of 3 main parts: a sugar molecule, a nitrogen-containing base, and a phosphate group [ 4+ ].
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 [ 4+ ].
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 [ 4+ ].
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 [ 4+ ].
All in all, this gives us 5 bases for nucleotides:
If there is no phosphate group, the molecule is called a nucleoside (indicated in parentheses above, e.g. adenosine). Basically, scientists say that the body uses these nucleosides only to make nucleotides [ 4+ ].
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) 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. How Are Nucleotides Created? Research reveals that our bodies have two ways of creating nucleotides. The first pathway involves building brand new ones from amino acids. Creating nucleotides through this pathway requires a lot of energy [ 2+ ].The salvage pathway creates nucleotides from other 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 [ 10 ].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 [ 11+ ].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 [ 4+ ]. Potential Health Benefits of Nucleotides The following purported benefits are only supported by limited, low-quality clinical studies. There is insufficient evidence to support the use of dietary nucleotides for any of the below-listed uses. Remember to speak with a doctor before taking dietary nucleotide supplements, which should never be used as a replacement for approved medical therapies. 1) Immune Support Some 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. Theoretically, nucleotides can provide ready-to-use parts, saving the body time and energy [ 3+ ].Human research on nucleotides and the immune system mainly focused on infants. This is […]