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Health Benefits of Alpha-Ketoglutaric Acid

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Updated May 15, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Alpha-ketoglutaric acid is a substance found naturally in the human body. Also available in dietary supplement form, alpha-ketoglutaric acid plays a key role in the Krebs cycle (a series of chemical reactions involved in the body's production of energy). Alpha-ketoglutaric acid supplements are purported to offer a variety of health benefits.

Alpha-ketoglutaric acid also occurs in salt form, as a substance called alpha-ketoglutarate. Alpha-ketoglutarate is involved in the formation of glutamine, an amino acid required for protein synthesis and for proper functioning of the immune system.

Health Benefits of Alpha-Ketoglutaric Acid:

Although research on the health effects of alpha-ketoglutaric acid is very limited, some preliminary research suggests that alpha-ketoglutarate may offer certain health benefits. Here's a look at several key findings from the available studies:

1) Hemodialysis

Alpha-ketoglutarate may be of some benefit to people undergoing hemodialysis. In a study published in the journal Nephron in 1996, researchers found that administering a combination of alpha-ketoglutarate and calcium carbonate to hemodialysis patients helped boost amino acid metabolism and decrease hyperphosphatemia (a condition marked by abnormally elevated levels of phosphate in the blood).

2) Cardiac Surgery

Alpha-ketoglutarate may help improve kidney function among patients undergoing cardiac surgery, according to a 1998 study from the Annals of Thoracic Surgery. The study involved 22 people with normal kidney function prior to undergoing cardiac surgery. Of those patients, 11 people received an intravenous infusion of alpha-ketoglutarate an hour after their surgery. Study results suggest that alpha-ketoglutarate may enhance blood flow in the kidneys.

3) Longevity

A 2014 study published in Nature suggests that alpha-ketoglutarate may show promise in increasing longevity. In tests on the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans, the study's authors determined that alpha-ketoglutarate interfered with cellular energy production and mimicked the effects of diets very low in calories, which have been shown to extend the lifespan of certain animals. According to the study's authors, alpha-ketoglutarate boosted the lifespan of the treated worms by approximately 50% over untreated controls. Further study is needed to see what effects the compound would have in humans. 

Uses for Alpha-Ketoglutaric Acid

Alpha-ketoglutaric acid is often said to enhance athletic performance. Proponents claim that use of alpha-ketoglutaric acid can help stimulate the body's production of protein, stabilize blood sugar levels during exercise, and improve exercise endurance.

In addition, alpha-ketoglutaric acid is said to help treat or prevent the following health problems:

  • bacterial infections
  • cataracts
  • kidney disease
  • yeast infections

Is Alpha-Ketoglutaric Acid Safe?

Due to a lack of research, little is known about the safety of long-term use of supplements containing alpha-ketoglutaric acid. However, there's some concern that consumption of alpha-ketoglutaric acid may irritate the esophagus and/or upset the stomach.

It's important to note that self-treating a health condition with alpha-ketoglutaric acid and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences. If you're considering the use of alpha-ketoglutaric acid in treatment of any condition, make sure to consult your physician.

Alternatives to Alpha-Ketoglutaric Acid

A number of other natural remedies may be of some use in improving athletic performance. For instance, some research indicates that branched-chain amino acids may help improve physical performance and prevent fatigue during long periods of exercise.

In addition, phosphatidylserine supplements have been found to boost exercise capacity, as well as decrease muscle soreness and protect against the increase in levels of cortisol (a hormone released during stress) that often results from overtraining.

There's also some evidence that creatine may boost performance in high-intensity, short-duration activities (such as weight-lifting and sprinting).

Where To Find Alpha-Ketoglutaric Acid

Available for purchase online, alpha-ketoglutaric acid is sold in many natural-foods stores, drugstores, and stores specializing in dietary supplements.

Sources

Chin RM., Fu X, Pai MY, Vergnes L, Hwang H, Deng G, Diep S, Lomenick B, Meli VS,  Monsalve GC, Hu E, Whelan SA, Wang JX, Jung G,  Solis GM, Fazlollahi F, Kaweeteerawat C, Quach A, Nili M, Krall AS, Godwin HA, Chang HR, Faull KF, Guo F, Jiang M, Trauger SA, Saghatelian A, Braas D,     Christofk HR, Clarke CF, Teitell MA, Petrascheck M, Reue K, Jung ME, Frand AR, Huang J. "The metabolite α-ketoglutarate extends lifespan by inhibiting ATP synthase and TOR." Nature. 2014;509(7500). dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature13264 

Jeppsson A, Ekroth R, Friberg P, Kirnö K, Milocco I, Nilsson FN, Svensson S, Wernerman J. "Renal effects of alpha-ketoglutarate early after coronary operations." Ann Thorac Surg. 1998 Mar;65(3):684-90.

Riedel E, Nündel M, Hampl H. "Alpha-Ketoglutarate application in hemodialysis patients improves amino acid metabolism." Nephron. 1996;74(2):261-5.

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