DEAR DR. BLONZ: I am trying to get some answers about RNA and DNA, the nucleic acids. I have been reading information online, looking at products and reading a book that encourages you to take these substances as dietary supplements to help keep your body healthy and prevent aging-related chronic illnesses. Do you have information on this subject? Are these supplements safe to take, and are there any side effects? Do you know where to buy them? -- S.M., Phoenix
DEAR S.M.: Let's start with the bottom line: There is no reliable evidence that taking these compounds as dietary supplements will be a boon to your health, or provide any of the benefits you mention. Irrespective of that straightforward statement, there are plenty of products out there being touted for anti-aging and related benefits. For some background, let's take a closer look at the nucleic acids.
The principle nucleic acids are DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), which is found mainly in the nucleus of our cells, and RNA (ribonucleic acid), which can be found throughout the cells. Both DNA and RNA are large, complex biochemical compounds that contain particular sequences of substances known as purine and pyrimidine bases. Similar to how sentences in Morse code are made up of dots and dashes, the arrangement of these bases in the nucleic acids contain a message, which, in this case, is the genetic blueprint of how we are made.
There was some thought, a number of years back, that increasing one's intake of nucleic acids would help slow down the aging process and ailments connected with getting older. There was even a popular book that came out in 1976 titled "Dr. Frank's No-Aging Diet" (by Benjamin S. Frank, Dial Press), in which the author put forth the concept that a decreasing level of the nucleic acids was one of the hallmarks of aging. The "logic" then suggested that by eating foods high in nucleic acids, or taking supplements of these compounds, you could "de-age" the body. Wouldn't it be nice if things were that simple?
Although it was characterized in the book as a "revolution in the making," there are a couple of problems with the logic. First, everyone's nucleic acids are unique. Most supplements of nucleic acids come from yeast, and it is a bit of a stretch to think that they would affect us as advertised. Another problem is that when consumed, the nucleic acids will be disassembled by the digestive system. Finally, individuals at risk for gout should be aware that taking nucleic acids increases your dietary intake of uric acid. All this being said, you can still find these dietary supplements at just about every online store.
Perhaps the most telling fact is that in the 38 years since the book was written, there has been little -- if any -- objective evidence to support the claims that taking nucleic acid supplements does anything more than provide profits to the marketers. This lack of evidence persists even now, when there are so many significant research efforts directed toward understanding the aging process.
Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to email@example.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.