by Nickolaos D. Skouras, PhD.

What is now emerging from nutritional research labs and appearing in the marketplace is a whole new generation of supplements based on metabolic "intermediaries" rather than "supporters". Up to now, nutritional researchers have focused on improving body functions by providing nutritional supporters such as vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. Recently they have been experimenting with intermediary molecules that are directly involved in the biochemical reactions themselves. Pyruvate is an example of this new approach.

How does Pyruvate Work?

Pyruvate works primarily to enhance the transport of glucose into the muscle cell from the blood. In studies, it increased "glucose extraction" in leg endurance, 150% in perceived exer- tion, and 300% in arm endurance studies. During rest, it was found to increase muscle glycomolecule gen by 50% which should increase endurance significantly. Pyruvic acid is also directly involved in energy production in the body. Muscles contract by breaking down a high energy called ATP. Energy, as ATP, is generated when glucose breaks down in an anaerobic (without oxygen) process known as glycolysis. The end result of this process is either lactate or acetyl-CoA. Which one dominates is dependent upon the availability of oxygen. In intense exercise, the supply of oxygen is not high enough to keep up with the demands of the muscles fatigue. During lower intensity exercise, like jogging, cycling, etc., the oxygen supply can keep up with muscular demands and pyruvate turns into acetyl-CoA which then enters the mitochondria. Once there it enters an aerobic (with oxygen) process called Kreb’s Cycle which generates even more ATP than is possible with just glycolysis.

Most of the research carried out on pyruvate has been done by Dr. Ronald Stanko at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He has carried out numerous studies which demonstrate that muscular endurance, using an arm and leg ergometer test, was increased by 20% in test subjects taking pyruvate. Stanko and his colleagues also used a double-blind study to determine that after ingesting pyruvate, subjects reported a 20% decrease in the perceived exertion required for the testing procedure. Since higher levels of pyruvate leads to more efficient energy production, via the Kreb’s cycle which bums fat for fuel, Dr. Stanko began looking for use in reducing body fat. He developed some experiments at the Clinical Research Centre where he placed overweight people on a low-caloric diet (500 cal/day) with an intake of 16gm/day of pyruvate. Subjects tested showed enhanced weight loss of 16% and fat loss of 23%.

Next, he gave obese women (average 2441bs.) on a l,000cal/day diet with an intake of 30gm/ day of pyruvate. Over a three week period, the subjects tested lost 131bs of weight and 91bs of fat, nearly as much as the obese people on only 16gm/day of pyruvate and a 500cal/day diet. These were test dosages, so it is important to realize that appropriate and effective dosages need to be assessed when attempting to use pyruvate as part of a long-term weight-loss program. A different group of researchers, Colker and colleagues, looked at lower dosages of pyruvate which . would be of use in the real world by average people. They put fifty-three subjects on 6gm/day in a six week double-blind study. At the end of the study, subjects taking pyruvate had an average 12% decrease in percentage body fat, 4.81bs of actual body fat, and had experienced a 2.2% increase in their basal metabolic rate. They also reported a significant increase in vitality with much less fatigue. Terry Newsome, a 38 year-old executive from Westlake, California, who has struggled with obesity for over 20 years said, "I've lost 391bs in less than 40 weeks. Other than taking 5gm/day of pyruvate, my eating and exercise habits have remained the same, yet I feel better than I ever dreamed possible. Now I can play with my 7 and 9 year-old boys for hours, where before my activity level was extremely limited.

After nearly 25 years of research, pyruvate is now available as a dietary supplement. Researchers have also discovered that as well as helping to enhance energy production in the body, it also may reduce the cellular damage caused by stress and intense exercise. Pyruvic acid is chemically unstable, so it is stabilized by forming a "salt" called pyruvate by combining it with either sodium, calcium, potassium, or magnesium. It sounds easy, but it is not a simple process and is one of the reasons it took such a long time to bring it into the marketplace. Calcium pyruvate is the most popular form of pyruvate, which is not usually a problem for most people who need calcium on a regular basis anyway. Pyruvate is found in the diet with naturally ingested amounts ranging from lOOmg to l-2gm/day in a variety of foods including certain fruits and vegetables - red apples contain 450mg - certain cheeses, etc. Published data as well as over 1,000 pages of unpublished data by a leading U.S. pharmaceutical company has revealed that the optimal dose of pyruvate is less than 5gm/day. Dr. Stanko says, "We see a linear response between 2 and 5gm/day and than the response plateaus. In another words, the response with 10 or 15gms is the same as with 5 grams." With no reported side effects from ingesting up to 50gm/day, pyruvate appears to be a safe bet to try for both weight reduction and more energy.