D-Ribose: A CARB That Can Reverse Heart Disease?
A cup of coffee. A brisk walk. A quick nap.
These are the classic ways to increase your vigor and fight fatigue. And who doesn’t want more energy?
But there’s another kind of energy involved in good health – and it starts at the molecular level.
Your cells crave energy. They need it to help maintain healthy tissues, heal injuries, and for your organs to function optimally.
It’s not quite as obvious as the jolt you get from a Red Bull or other gimmicky drink – but it’s the type of energy that matters most in your body.
And here’s something that’s much cooler than anything you can get from some sugary drink: There’s a supplement that just might help boost your cellular energy.
Before you rush out to buy it, consider this: It’s not for everyone. You won’t get an immediate energy rush, or be able to pull an all-nighter, or run faster, no matter what manufacturers claim.
But this supplement does have specific benefits.
In fact, it could be just what you need to mend a broken heart.
A Beneficial Building Block…
A carbohydrate found in most animal and plant foods, D-ribose is essential for good health.
That’s no understatement.
See, D-ribose is necessary for your body to make adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, the major source of energy for your cells. You need it to survive – and thrive.
Scientists first discovered this crucial substance in the early 1900s. Back then, they believed that D-ribose was simply a part of the structure of DNA and RNA, with no real significant benefits of its own.
But by the second half of the century, researchers had determined that the carbohydrate played a central role in an important metabolic reaction called the pentose phosphate pathway, which is integral to the creation of energy.
Your body makes energy in its mitochondria, tiny power plants inside every cell. Mitochondria produce ATP – and D-ribose appears to act as the key building block for ATP. In other words, if you want energy, you need ATP. And if you want ATP, you need D-ribose.1
Despite this, no studies have found that D-ribose can boost energy in healthy people. But it may have very specific benefits for some.
In 1973, a German research group found that hearts that had been deprived of oxygen (a problem known as ischemia) could recover more quickly if D-ribose was administered early. This same group of investigators continued to study the effects of D-ribose on cardiovascular health – often with impressive results.
The Heart of the Matter…
A pioneering clinical study published in 1992 looked at the effects of supplemental D-ribose in patients with severe but stable coronary artery disease. The researchers found that the compound could increase exercise tolerance and delay the onset of moderate angina (chest pain) in people who received it.2
In the twenty years since these groundbreaking findings, a number of other studies have shown equally exciting benefits for D-ribose, including recovery from cardiac surgery, heart failure, neuromuscular disease treatment, and control of free-radical formation in tissue that has been deprived of oxygen.
For example, in one 2003 study, published in the European Journal of Heart Failure, researchers sought to determine how D-ribose might help people with congestive heart failure, a complication of coronary artery disease in which the heart can’t pump enough blood to the rest of the body.
This double-blind, randomized, crossover trial followed 15 people who had both coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure. The people took either a D-ribose supplement or a placebo pill for three weeks, waited a week, and then switched to whichever treatment they had not already received.
At the end of the study, researchers found that D-ribose was associated with enhanced heart function and better quality of life than the placebo.3
Scientists have also found that administering D-ribose can help restore the heart’s normal levels of ATP. Because heart attacks result in ischemia – causing the organ to lose both oxygen and ATP – experts believe that D-ribose could be a useful supplement for people who have suffered one.
Even More Uses…
D-ribose is best studied for cardiovascular problems, but it does show promise in some other areas of health, too.
For instance, it may help prevent symptoms of myoadenylate deaminase deficiency (MAD), a hereditary disorder that can cause cramping, pain, and stiffness after exercise. D-ribose may also help improve the ability to exercise in another hereditary condition called McArdle’s disease.4
There’s even some evidence that D-ribose might benefit people with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. In one study of 41 people with one or both of these challenging conditions, supplemental D-ribose was associated with improved energy, sleep, mental clarity, pain, and well-being in 66 percent of patients. 5
But as for claims that D-ribose can improve athletic endurance in healthy people or spur weight loss?
There’s not a lick of good evidence to support such assertions.
D-ribose is an excellent addition to your supplement regimen if you have one of the conditions noted here, particularly those related to cardiovascular health.
Be cautious of it if you also have diabetes, however, as this supplement may affect blood sugar. And we don’t yet know how D-ribose supplements affect women who are pregnant or nursing.
Although more studies are needed, D-ribose appears to be safe for most people: It may cause mild side effects, such as nausea, gastrointestinal discomfort, diarrhea, and headaches, particularly in extremely high doses (60 grams or more a day).
When purchasing D-ribose, look for capsules. The compound also comes in powders that can be dissolved in water or other liquids, but some people may find the taste unpleasant.
For cardiovascular concerns, 7 to 10 daily grams is the recommended dose. If you have fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, or hereditary exercise intolerance, try 10 to 15 grams a day.
And remember, keep an open mind to new ideas, but ALWAYS do your own homework…and combine that with common sense to figure out what’s best for YOU.
1Alberts B. Essential cell biology : an introduction to the molecular biology of the cell. New York: Garland Pub.; 1998.
2 Pliml W, von Arnim T, Stablein A, Hofmann H, Zimmer HG, Erdmann E. Effects of ribose on exercise induced ischaemia in stable coronary artery disease. Lancet. Aug 29 1992;340(8818):507-510.
3Omran H, Illien S, MacCarter D, St Cyr J, Luderitz B. D-Ribose improves diastolic function and quality of life in congestive heart failure patients: a prospective feasibility study. European journal of heart failure. Oct 2003;5(5):615-619.
4Seifert JG, Subudhi AW, Fu MX, et al. The role of ribose on oxidative stress during hypoxic exercise: a pilot study. Journal of medicinal food. Jun 2009;12(3):690-693.
5Teitelbaum JE, Johnson C, St Cyr J. The use of D-ribose in chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia: a pilot study. J Altern Complement Med. Nov 2006;12(9):857-862.
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