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What Are Nucleotides? Are They Essential Dietary Components?

By David McEvoy

Nucleotides and RNA are valuable immune system building blocks. Since Dr Peter Koeppel, one of the leading experts on immunology and biochemistry at a leading Swiss pharmaceutical company, released a paper on their use for human health applications, interest has soared. Here we explain what a nucleotide is and describe its close links with our DNA to begin with, and go on to highlight the beneficial implications of supplementing the daily diet with these naturally-derived, conditionally essential dietary components.

Where do nucleotides come from?

As any good nutritionist will tell you, anything that the human body needs can be obtained from food. Foods that are naturally high in nucleotides include:



"Lean Meat




"Yeast extract

However, to boost your immune system with nucleotides, they must be taken in a more concentrated form.

Understanding Nucleotides and DNA

Dr Koeppel states that nucleotides are the building blocks necessary for creating new DNA and RNA. To help us understand this, we need to think back to high school when we learned about the double-helix of DNA. Remember the spiral ladder with the different coloured rungs? That is a model representing the DNA that makes up the genes and chromosomes found in us all. DNA is a very large molecule, and the rungs of the DNA ladder are made of a combination of two different nucleotides. The nucleotides are molecules - guanosine and cytosine - that pair up together, or adenosine and thymidine, which also pair up together. Adenosine and guanosine are called purines. Cytosine, thymidine and uradine are called pyrimidines. RNA is similar to DNA, except that the molecule uradine replaces thymine in that pair, and RNA is an intermediary between DNA and protein. A gene is a discrete sequence of DNA nucleotides, and genes are what make up our chromosomes. So, it makes sense that genes are made of DNA.

While all of this sounds very technical, what you need to understand is that nucleotides are molecules that are essential to the creation of new DNA and RNA molecules, which are then used by new cells of all kinds. This is important because nucleotides, either by themselves or in combination with other molecules, are involved in almost all activities of the cell (and therefore, the body).

What is DNA in layman's terms?

Deoxyribonucleic acid, DNA, which makes up the genetic material in cells, is comprised of units called nucleotides.

Nucleotides can be simply described as the nutritional building blocks of new cells. There are five key nucleotides, which form the crucial building blocks of DNA and RNA, and are therefore essential for ongoing new cell production and system repair.

The body has an ongoing demand for new cell production, and must create cells at the same rate at which its cells die. To do this, a typical cell must double its mass and duplicate all of its contents in order to produce the two new "daughter cells.

This multiplication of a cell starts with the doubling of the information (inter-phase) - namely the DNA. Previously we discussed how the DNA is formed by the five key nucleotides. A normal DNA consists of 3 billion nucleotides.

It is only after this multiplication of the DNA that the M-phase can start. This is where the two cell nuclei are formed and the cells start to divide into two separate cells.

Cell proliferation is a lengthy and complicated process, dependent mainly on energy and supply of the specific building blocks, the five key nucleotides.

Research has shown that by providing extra dietary sources of nucleotides, the multiplication of these new cells can be speeded up. This applies to the following cell types:

Intestinal mucosa cells - the cells lining the gut

Bone marrow cells, namely leukocytes (especially Lymphocytes) - more commonly termed as the white blood immune cells

Erythrocytes - Red blood cells

Certain brain cells

For years, nucleic acids and nucleotides were considered essential nutrients. Now these nucleotides are increasingly considered to be limiting in certain diets and during periods of stress and illness.

It was thought that the body could synthesise sufficient nucleotides to meet its physiological demands via "de novo synthesis of nucleotides. However, research during the last several years indicates that this is not correct. There are certain conditions in which the body requires dietary nucleotides to meet its physiological requirements.

These conditions include:

Rapid growth

Limited food supply


Chronic disease

Bacterial and viral infections

In these situations, metabolic demand exceeds the capacity of the "de novo synthesis, and therefore dietary nucleotides become conditionally essential.

Importantly, dietary nucleotides may also spare the energetic costs of "de novo synthesis of nucleotides.

Critical point in nutrition: energy

Building nucleotides by the "de novo process requires lots of time and energy. Supplementing purified nucleotides to the diet reduces the proportions required to manufacture, while accelerating all active processes and saving energy also.

Supplementary nucleotides have been demonstrated to enhance the efficiency of a number of vital organs; these include:

Immune organs including the bone marrow



Consequently, supplementary nucleotides have an effect on a number of vital functions:


Production of stress hormones

Digestion and absorption of nutrients

Vitality and well-being

Focussing on Immunity

Nucleotides are an essential part of an healthy immune system, because they have been shown to support the following:

The reversal of malnutrition or starvation-induced immunosuppression

Enhancement of T-cell maturation and function

Enhancement of natural killer cell activity

Increase of delayed cutaneous hypersensitivity

Aiding resistance to infectious agents such as Staphylococcus aureus and Candida albicans

Modulation of T-Cell responses toward type 1 CD4 helper lymphocytes or TH1 cells.

In layman's terms, nucleotides help to boost the immune system by speeding up the process of creating new defence cells, which are essential for the body to fight infections.

Reducing the effect of an infection

In 2003 a double-blind placebo controlled trial was carried out by Dr Isobel Davidson at Queen Margaret University College, Edinburgh. This clinical trial was carried out to test the effects of nucleotides on reducing the severity of specific symptoms, secondary infections and healing time after a natural infection by the cold or flu virus. The findings showed that the specific formula of nucleotides significantly reduced the symptoms of painful sinuses and earache. Over the first six days of taking the nucleotides or a placebo, the discomfort level was on average greatly reduced for the nucleotide patients:

Dry mouth: 30% less

Sore throat: 20% less

Muscle aches: 15% less

Headache: 40% less

Salivary IgA (antibody) concentrations were similar at recruitment, but the subsequent to this were higher in general for the nucleotide group. For the layman, higher antibody levels indicate a greater immune response.

Preserving a strong immunity

The positive effects of supplementary nucleotides on immunity was also backed up with another placebo controlled trial carried out by Professor Lars McNaughton, University of Bath, 2002. McNaughton tested the effects of nucleotides on athletes under both short-term and high intensity, and moderate endurance exercise. Again these results were significant and conclusive. Athletes on the nucleotide treatment showed a 25% higher IgA concentration after 90 minutes endurance exercise, compared with the placebo group.

The stress hormone, cortisol, was 10% reduced for the nucleotide supplemented group. High cortisol levels have been shown to impede the effectiveness of disease fighting cells. Hence, the placebo group showed a greater drop in antibodies. High decreases in IgA (antibodies) are thought to be a reason for increased levels of Upper Respiratory Tract Infection (e.g. colds and flu) for athletes and people suffering high levels of stress.

In conclusion, the body needs nucleotides to help support a healthy immune response. The body can normally take these from food, but in times of stress, illness, poor diet or rapid growth, dietary nucleotides become conditionally essential; supplementing all five nucleotides has been shown to preserve a strong immunity, and reduce the severity of infections.

Copyright 2005 David McEvoy

About The Author
Dave Mcevoy: A great resource for nucleotides is Nucell Active. For more information visit, or to purchase go to


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