As we age, our production of ATP declines, a development that can potentially lead to organ or muscle dysfunction. Taking oral supplements increases ATP levels in the liver, red blood cells, plasma and organs. It improves the tone and relaxes the walls of blood vessels, increasing blood flow to the lungs, heart and peripheral regions without affecting heart rate or blood pressure. It also helps restore ATP to levels approaching those of younger people.
When we consume food, the energy it provides is converted and stored inside phosphate bonds or adenosine 5'-triphosphate. This energy storage molecule is present both inside and outside each of the body’s cells. When the bonds break, the energy released fuels biological processes.
Energy is needed at every level in the body. At a cellular level, it serves to produce new proteins, provide nutrients to cells and flush out cellular waste, repair DNA damage and create new neurotransmitters.
At an organ level, energy is used by the heart to pump blood, by the kidneys to filter out waste and recycle nutrients, by the brain to create electrical nerve impulses and by the lungs to absorb oxygen and expel carbon dioxide.
And as individuals, we use energy to walk, run, talk, use a computer …
The primary source of energy at each of these levels, and the main energy transporter for all forms of life, is the molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP) – a nucleotide comprising adenine, ribose and a unit of phosphate.
ATP is stored in organs and in red blood cells and is particularly concentrated in the liver.
Produced in the mitochondria
ATP is created in the mitochondria found in every cell in every organ though it is in the brain where they probably work hardest. The brain uses almost 20% of the body’s oxygen and 50% of ingested sugars to meet the constant need for energy. Mitochondrial energy production takes place via two, directly-associated metabolic processes: the citric acid or Krebs cycle, and oxidative phosphorylation. The first converts biological fuel (carbohydrates and fats) into ATP, the main source of cellular energy. The second combines hydrogen and oxygen to generate greater amounts of ATP – almost ten times as much as the Krebs cycle. In fact, mitochondrial phosphorylation produces close to 80% of the ATP used by the body’s cells.
Unfortunately, mitochondrial function becomes less effective as we age. In a young adult, mitochondria will respond to an increase in energy requirements by rapidly self-replicating, producing more ATP to provide the energy needed. As we get older, this replication occurs more slowly and fewer mitochondria are generated. They tend to respond to increased demand by increasing their size, but in so doing they become less effective and also produce more free radicals.
Mammalian cell culture studies show that oxidative stress affects the activity of key mitochondrial enzymes, resulting in decreased ATP production. Oxidative damage to internal mitochondrial membrane proteins can lead to increased leakage of superoxides and hydrogen peroxides, and in turn, to mutations in mitochondrial DNA.
Even a small loss in capacity for mitochondrial energy production can cause weakness, fatigue or cognitive problems. Decline in ATP production is associated with impaired organ and muscle function.
A study 1
measuring ATP levels in red blood cells noted that people in their seventies had around half the ATP of those in their twenties. This decline in ATP production may be responsible for the increase in blood pressure associated with ageing. Indeed patients with primary pulmonary hypertension have been shown to suffer from impaired ATP release from red blood cells 2
. This is also true of patients with cystic fibrosis who also develop pulmonary hypertension3
Adenosine, a by-product of ATP breakdown, may act as an endogenous protector of the heart. Research suggests that via various chemical processes, it may inhibit the harmful effects of ischaemic heart disease and heart failure 4
. It is therefore crucial to maintain adequate internal production of adenosine by the heart and arteries, as well as to ensure sufficient supply from external sources such as the diet or nutritional supplements.
Problems with production
The brain cannot store ATP and mitochondria do not know how to ‘share’ ATP with mitochondria in other organs. A human being at rest is estimated to require 40kg of ATP every 24 hours. When we engage in vigorous exercise, this jumps to 500g a minute.
Although used for energy flow by all the body’s cells, ATP is present in very limited amounts – in fact only 70mg is stored in the body at any one time representing just a few seconds worth of consumption. Reserves of ATP during intense exercise would therefore last for just five to eight seconds.
It is clear then that to ensure constant reserves of energy, ATP production must be continuous and effective – which is indeed what happens under normal conditions.
However, when the supply of energy-producing substances - such as oxygen or nutrients transported by the blood - is interrupted, say in the case of a heart attack of stroke, ATP production is impaired, triggering a cascade of free radical damage.
Increasing the body’s reserves
Studies have shown that ATP supplementation provides significant health benefits. For around 40 years, scientists have worked to create an effective, orally-ingested form of ATP that produces an increase in endogenous levels. Five years ago, an oral form of ATP was developed and patented under the name Peak ATP™ which is indeed effective at boosting the body’s ATP reserves.
Once ingested, ATP is cleaved into free adenosine and phosphate which are absorbed by the intestines and incorporated into ATP reserves in the liver, in turn increasing those of red blood cells.
The first studies on exogenous administration of ATP used intravenous solutions which were absorbed effectively. Two studies were conducted on cancer patients, the first on 14 men with advanced cancer who were given an ATP perfusion for 96 hours once a month. The treatment significantly increased their blood levels of ATP, and this increase persisted for a month after treatment ceased 4
. The second study found that administration of ATP for 30 hours significantly increased erythrocyte ATP concentration in 28 patients with only minor side-effects 5
Other research has looked at oral administration of ATP. One study on rabbits noted a decrease, after 14 days, in peripheral vascular resistance, pulmonary resistance and respiratory rate, with no effect on blood pressure or heart rate 6
. These results differed from those of earlier animal studies using intravenous ATP in which the animals had had a rapid cardiac response. The researchers concluded that administering ATP orally produces different pharmacological effects from those of intravenous administration. They also observed that ATP administered orally to rats for 30 days increased the ability of the gut to capture intraluminal purine nucleosides and to export ATP into the bloodstream.
By increasing cellular energy and blood flow, ATP supplementation offers health benefits for the body as a whole, as well as for the circulation and mental health.
Beneficial effects for athletes
Furthermore, improving circulation can increase blood flow in skeletal muscle - delivering more nutrients and oxygen while simultaneously eliminating catabolic waste – and is thus particularly beneficial for athletes. By boosting intra- and extra-cellular ATP stores, supplementation increases energy which is conducive to improving athletic performance. ATP also benefits muscular growth, strength and recovery, and reduces feelings of fatigue and pain associated with exercise.
One double-blind, placebo-controlled study, conducted by a centre for health research in Dallas, Texas, examined the effects of supplementation with Peak ATP™ on 27 healthy male athletes using doses of 150mg or 225mg of Peak ATP™, or a placebo. Blood and plasma ATP levels were seen to decline in line with the subjects’ age. The supplementation induced a significantly age-dependent increase in plasma ATP. Those taking the higher dose of ATP also experienced an inversely age-dependent increase in their physical performance.
According to the researchers, their results would suggest that in younger subjects, ATP supplements are used more effectively, with better conversion of ATP in muscles, while in older subjects, the benefits may be observed in plasma and may help treat chronic health problems. 7
1. Rabini R.A. et al., Diabetes mellitus and subjects' ageing: a study on the ATP content and ATP-related enzyme activities in human erythrocytes, Eur. J. Clin. Invest., 1997 Apr, 27(4): 327-32.
2. Sprague R.S. et al., Impaired release of ATP from red blood cells of human with primary pulmonary hypertension, Exp. Biol. Med. (Maywood), 2001 May, 226(5): 434-9.
3. Sprague R.S. et al., Deformation induced ATP release from read blood cells requires CFTR activity, Am. J. physiol., 1998 Nov, 275(5Pt2): H1726-32.
4. Kitakase M. et al., Adenosine and cardioprotection in the diseased heart, Jpn. Circ. J., 1999 Apr, 63(4): 213-43.
5. Haskell C.M. et al., Phase I trial of extracellular adenosine 5'-triphosphate in patients with advanced cancer, Med. Pediatr. Oncol., 1996, 27: 165-73.
6. Agteresh H.J. et al., Pharmacokinetics of intravenous ATP in cancer patients, Eur. J. Clin. Pharmacol., 2000, 56: 49-55.
7. Kichenin K. et al., Cardiovascular and pulmonary response to oral administration of ATP in rabbits, J. Appl. Physiol., 2000, 88: 1962-8.
8. Jordan A.N. et al., Effects of oral ATP supplementation on anaerobic power and muscular strength, Med. Sci. Sport Exerc., 2004, 36, 6: 983-90.