The Health Benefits of Alpha-Ketoglutaric Acid

Supplement may enhance athletic performance and metabolism

In This Article

Alpha-ketoglutaric acid is a biological compound found naturally in the human body. Also available as a dietary supplement, alpha-ketoglutaric acid plays a key role in the Krebs cycle (a series of chemical reactions used to release stored energy). Alpha-ketoglutaric acid supplements are purported to offer a variety of health benefits, including enhanced athletic performance and improved metabolism.

Woman running road race while grabbing a cup of water,
Yellow Dog Productions / Getty Images

Many of these claims are based on how alpha-ketoglutaric acid works in the body, including its role in regulating the immune system and bone development. Whether taking a supplement can enhance these biological functions is uncertain at best.

Also Known As

  • Alpha-ketoglutarate
  • 2-ketoglutaric acid
  • 2-oxoglutarate
  • 2-oxoglutaric acid

Health Benefits

In heart surgery, alpha-ketoglutaric acid is sometimes delivered intravenously (into a vein) to reduce damage to the heart muscle due to the reduced blood flow. Doing so may also improve blood flow to the kidney following the surgery.

Its use as a supplement is far less certain. Alternative practitioners believe that alpha-ketoglutaric acid can treat or prevent a wide variety of health conditions, including:

  • Cataracts
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Hepatomegaly (enlarged liver)
  • Intestinal toxemia
  • Oral thrush
  • Osteoporosis
  • Tendinopathy
  • Yeast infections

Because of its role in releasing stored energy, alpha-ketoglutaric acid is often marketed as a sports performance supplement. Some proponents even assert that the supplement's antioxidant effects can slow aging.

As is often the case with supplements that claim to treat multiple unrelated conditions, the evidence supporting these claims is weak. Some, like the supplement's "anti-aging" properties (based largely on a 2014 study involving nematode worms), border on the improbable.

With that being said, a few early studies have hinted at the potential benefits of alpha-ketoglutaric acid supplementation. Here is what some of the current research says:

Chronic Kidney Disease

Alpha-ketoglutaric acid has been used since the late-1990s to help break down and absorb protein in people on hemodialysis who require a low-protein diet. Recent evidence suggests that it may also delay the need for dialysis in people with advanced chronic kidney disease (CKD).

According to a 2017 study in the journal PLoS One, researchers identified and followed 1,483 people with advanced CKD who used an alpha-ketoglutaric acid supplement called Ketosteril. The average duration of the follow-up was 1.57 years.

Compared to a matched set of individuals who didn't take the supplement, those who did were less likely to require long-term dialysis. The benefits extended only to those who took more than 5.5 tablets per day, indicating the effects were dose-dependent.

Despite the positive findings, it is unclear what role alpha-ketoglutaric acid played in comparison to the supplement's other active ingredients. Further research is needed.

Gastrointestinal Health

Alpha-ketoglutaric acid supplements are believed to be anticatabolic, meaning that it slows or prevents or catabolism (the breakdown of tissues). By definition, a catabolic process is opposite to an anabolic process (in which tissues are built).

A 2012 study in the Italian Journal of Animal Science reported that alpha-ketoglutaric acid prevented the breakdown of the intestines in lab rats fed a protein-free diet for 14 days. Rather than experiencing damage to the finger-like villi of the intestines—the expected outcome—the rats fed alpha-ketoglutaric acid had no visible damage compared to rats that weren't.

Moreover, the rats provided the supplements were able to maintain normal growth despite the total lack of protein. Higher doses conferred to even better results.

The findings appear to support alpha-ketoglutaric acid's anticatabolic effects. In addition to its application in chronic kidney disease, alpha-ketoglutaric acid may also aid people with intestinal toxemia and malabsorption disorders like celiac disease. Further research is needed.

Athletic Performance

By contrast, the anticatabolic effects of alpha-ketoglutaric acid appear to fall short when used for the purpose of muscle growth and athletic performance.

According to a 2012 study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, alpha-ketoglutaric acid had no tangible effect on either muscle strength or exercise endurance in 16 men tasked with a resistance training workout.

For this study, half of the men were given 3,000-milligrams (mg) of alpha-ketoglutaric acid, while the other half were given a placebo 45 minutes before doing bench press and leg press exercises. The following week, the supplements were flipped, with each half getting the alternate drug.

Athletic performance was based on the total load volume (TLV) of the exercises performed in tandem with pre- and post-exercise heart rates.

Based on the findings, alpha-ketoglutaric acid offered no statistical improvements in either upper or lower body strength or the aerobic capacity of the athletes.

What these findings demonstrate is the absence of catabolic response is not the same thing as an anabolic response, especially among athletes.

Possible Side Effects

Alpha-ketoglutaric acid is considered safe and well-tolerated. Studies investigating the effects of alpha-ketoglutaric acid reported few adverse symptoms after three years of use.

As a compound made from non-essential amino acids, alpha-ketoglutaric acid is not a substance on which you can readily overdose. Any excess in the body will either be excreted in urine or broken down into the basic amino acid building blocks for other purposes.

With that said, the safety of alpha-ketoglutaric acid in pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children has not been established. This includes children with rare metabolism disorders such as alpha-ketoglutarate dehydrogenase deficiency (in which alpha-ketoglutaric acid levels are abnormally elevated).

To be safe, always speak with your doctor, pediatrician, or OB/GYN before using alpha-ketoglutaric acid or any other dietary supplement.

It is unknown if alpha-ketoglutaric acid supplements can interact with other drugs.

Dosage and Preparation

Alpha-ketoglutaric acid supplements are available in tablet, capsule, and powder formulations and can be readily found online or in stores specializing in dietary supplements.

There are no universal guidelines for the appropriate use of alpha-ketoglutaric acids. Supplements are typically sold in dosages ranging from 300 milligrams (mg) to 1,000 mg taken once daily with or without food. Doses of up to 3,000 mg have been used in studies with no adverse effects.

Alpha keto-glutaric acid cannot be obtained from food. Rather, it is synthesized from non-essential amino acids that the body produces from its own cells.

As a general rule, never exceed the dose on the product label.

What to Look For

Dietary supplements in the United States are not strictly regulated. To ensure quality and safety, opt for brands that have been voluntarily submitted for testing by an independent certifying body like the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), ConsumerLab, or NSF International. In this way, you can be assured that the supplements contain the ingredients listed on the product label.

Also, check the label for added ingredients or fillers, especially if you are allergic to wheat or other common allergens. If in doubt, look for brands marked "hypoallergenic."

Most alpha-ketoglutaric acid supplements can be stored at room temperature for 12 months or longer if kept in the original sealed container with its desiccant pack. Never use a supplement past its expiration date.

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