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Has your grandma ever told you to eat liver? The high content of nutrients (vitamin A, B vitamins etc.) in organ meats, such as liver, kidneys or heart, is not the only reason why they are considered as a nutrient power house! They are also the highest source of what’s now considered by some experts as an essential nutrient - nucleotides.
What are nucleotides?
Nucleotides are natural compounds, which form the building blocks of our DNA, essential for cell division.1 Our DNA is like a huge software system, which codes for structural and functional aspects of your body. Without healthy DNA, your body can’t function properly.
Every day, every second, our bodies create millions of new cells, building and repairing worn out tissue. All those genes code for new hormones, neurotransmitters, enzymes and millions of other essential body chemicals. Without adequate nucleotide levels, all of these processes can be disturbed.
Sources of Nucleotides and Individual Requirements
These little molecules are so essential to life that our bodies have several ways of ensuring adequate supply. We can make them completely from scratch, reuse some components from old cells that have been broken down, or we can get them from food. It’s been shown that in many situations, natural production of nucleotides in the body is not enough, and this is where dietary sources are essential to fulfill that gap. Certain tissues that regenerate more frequently than others, or are damaged through a disease process or wear and tear, require more nucleotides to support this activity.2 Of course, individuals with higher rate of growth, such as pregnant women or children, will also fall into that category of increased need, but these aren’t the only factors – infections, injuries, damage to the intestinal tract (e.g. due to Inflammatory Bowel Disease - IBD) or malnutrition, can also increase your dietary needs. Arguably, our busy and stressful lifestyles make most of us predisposed to some level of inflammation or tissue damage, so it’s absolutely crucial to consider nucleotides as essential nutrients.
So where can we find nucleotides to make sure we are getting enough? The content of nucleotides in foods varies, but without a doubt, the highest sources include seafood, meat products and especially offal. Few people eat offal regularly, if any at all, while many people turn to a vegetarian or vegan diet. Fruit and vegetables provide negligible amounts, so it is important to include plenty of beans and lentils if you are following a vegan/vegetarian diet. If you are avoiding pulses though, perhaps consider supplementation.
You may wonder why you’ve not heard about nucleotides before if they are so important. Well, we’ve known about them for a long time, but we used to think that our bodies could easily make enough and that dietary sources weren’t as crucial. Let’s explore what else research is telling us about the potential health benefits of nucleotides!
The lining of our digestive tract is probably the fastest growing tissue in the body. Millions of cells are shed in stool every day, and so we constantly need to make new ones. In addition, the turnover of cells may be higher in different conditions that affect the digestive tract. This includes IBS, coeliac disease, IBD (e.g. Crohn’s disease), or even if you have diagnosed or undiagnosed food intolerances, which may cause some short-term inflammation. Nucleotide supplementation has also been linked to a reduction in IBS symptoms.3
When we are exposed to pathogens like bacteria or viruses, the production of immune cells increases exponentially to swiftly fight the infection. This is of course reliant on new DNA and so nucleotides. Nucleotides have been shown to have immune enhancing capabilities.4 They’ve also been shown to reduce the symptoms of common cold, including earache and sinus pain, and were especially effective if supplemented at an early stage of the infection.5
Whether you go to the gym for general health or you’re an athlete, exercise puts a lot of strain on the body. We use up a lot of nutrients during exercise in order to maintain adequate circulation and energy production, but also as a consequence, we create a lot of free radicals – small molecules that can damage our DNA and cells. If your antioxidant levels are low, this can lead to inflammation and tissue damage. Nucleotides are used to repair damaged DNA.6 If you’re trying to increase your muscle tone, nucleotides are essential for protein synthesis, and they make a perfect addition to your supplement programme alongside protein powders. Regular, high-intensity exercise is also known for increasing your stress hormone – cortisol. That can often have a negative health impact, especially due to suppression of the immune system, thus increasing the risk of infections. Supplementation with nucleotides has been shown to reduce cortisol levels and increase secretory IgA (SIgA) – the main immunoglobulin responsible for the initial immune response against pathogens, in individuals undergoing endurance exercise.7
Joints, Ligaments, Tendons & Skin
Our connective tissue, and specifically joints, ligaments and tendons, are constantly subjected to a significant amount of wear and tear, meaning our bodies need to work around the clock to repair the damaged tissue. The top layer of the skin, on the other hand, completely regenerates itself over a month or so. In skin conditions like psoriasis or eczema, this rate may be even higher. Nowadays, our skin is also exposed to damaging toxins and UVA radiation. Adding extra nucleotides to your diet can therefore provide the essential building blocks to ensure healthy joint and skin repair on a daily basis.
If nucleotide is a new word in your nutritional dictionary, make sure you explore the ways to include more sources in your diet to experience multiple health benefits!
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1Hess JR, Greenberg NA. ‘The role of nucleotides in the immune and gastrointestinal systems: potential clinical applications
2 Verkerk R. ‘Nucleotides: Speculation on lifestyle-Induced Essentiality’. NHD Magazine. 2011: 67:29-32
3 Dancey C, Attree E, Brown K. Nucleotide supplementation: a randomised double-blind placebo controlled trial of IntestAidIB in people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Nutr J. 2006; 5: 16.
4 Hawkes JS1, Gibson RA, Roberton D, Makrides M. Effect of dietary nucleotide supplementation on growth and immune function in term infants: a randomized controlled trial. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2006;60(2):254-64.
5 Davidson I, Fyfe I. A Randomised Double Placebo Controlled Trial of Nucleotide-Containing Supplement Nucell on Symptoms of Participants with the Common Cold – A Pilot Study. EC Nutrition. 2016;4.1:804-811.
6 Salobir J et al. Effect of nucleotide supplementation on lymphocyte DNA damage induced by dietary oxidative stress in pigs. British Society of Animal Science. 2005;81:135-140.
7 Mc Naughton L1, Bentley DJ, Koeppel P. The effects of a nucleotide supplement on salivary IgA and cortisol after moderate endurance exercise. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2006;46(1):84-9.