February 3, 2006

Nucleotide supplements may protect digestive tract

By Megan Rauscher

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Nucleotides, available over the counter as "health food" supplements, are biologically active and reduce gastric injury, according to a report in the medical journal Gut.

These compounds "could provide a novel inexpensive approach for the prevention and treatment of the injurious effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and other ulcerative conditions of the bowel," investigators from Imperial College and Hammersmith Hospital, London, conclude. The NSAID painkillers they refer to can often lead to stomach inflammation or ulcers.

The team notes that nucleotides serve as building blocks for making DNA and are marketed in either pure or mixed forms to promote general health. However, data on the true biologic activity of orally administered nucleotides is limited.

"With many healthy subjects and patients taking nucleotides for the prevention and treatment of multiple conditions, including gastrointestinal disorders and postoperative recovery, we decided to examine on a scientific basis whether nucleotides could help protect the gastrointestinal tract from injury," Dr. Tania Marchbank told Reuters Health.

In lab-dish experiments with human and rat tissue, the researchers found that the addition of nucleotides led to an approximately twofold increase in cell migration, a known biological repair response.

Nucleotides also encouraged proliferation of some types of cells but not others, according to the research team.

Moreover, in rats with induced gastric injury, oral administration of a mixture of nucleotides significantly reduced the degree of injury.

"These results," Marchbank noted, "emphasize that the division between 'food products' and 'drugs', when considered in terms of biological activity, is far from clear and that these products should be considered as 'nutriceuticals' or functional foods."

Similarly, "the idea that natural products are 'safe' whereas conventional drugs are 'dangerous' is a gross oversimplification," she added. "Further studies on the potential benefits (and risks) of nucleotide supplementation, therefore, appear justified."

SOURCE: Gut, February 2006.