Researchers have discovered that depressed adolescents can cheer themselves up by drinking beer.
It’s not what you think. It’s not the short-term effects of alcohol to which the scientists are referring, but the deeper and more significant effect which beer — or more specifically a component of beer called “uridine” — makes on the psyche.
What Is It?
Uridine is a nucleoside — essentially a nucleotide base — one of five such bases which together make up the nucleic acids (the others being adenosine, thymidine, cytidine and guanosine.)
It’s commonly found in foods such as sugar cane, broccoli, offal, and tomatoes, but none of these foods has the effect of elevating uridine levels in the blood. In the human body uridine normally gets destroyed by the liver and gastrointestinal tract.
Fortunately, there are at least three exceptions: human mother’s milk (and commercial infant formula); brewer’s yeast and beer; and nootropics supplements.
The 2002 study by T. Yamamoto and others (“Effect of beer on the plasma concentrations of uridine and purine bases” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12370853) found that plasma uridine levels rose 1.8 fold 30 minutes after the ingestion of regular beer. Significantly, the urinary excretion of uric acid didn’t increase when measured one hour after ingestion.
Several years later, in 2011, another study found that open-label uridine (that is, uridine used with the knowledge of the participants) was effective in treating depression.
Douglas G. Kondo and others, in “Open-Label Uridine for Treatment of Depressed Adolescents with Bipolar Disorder,” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3080753/ studied uridine treatment over a 6-week period. They reported that a fixed dose of uridine, 500mg twice daily, was “well tolerated by
participants” — and that no participant failed to achieve the set definition of treatment response: a 30 percent reduction in CDRS-R
(Children’s Depression Rating Scale-Revised) raw score.
If we take these two studies together — and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t, although research is still needed — we can see that beer, nootropics or mother’s milk can be beneficial to the functioning of the brain.
Supporting evidence comes from a third study, “Uridine function in the central nervous system,” 2011, by A. Dobolyi and others. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21401495 These researchers found that uridine administration promoted sleep, improved memory function, helped to combat epileptic actions and had a positive affect on neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to reorganise itself by making new neural connections).
The Downside of Drinking
Before we encourage adolescents to embark on binge drinking it’s worth bearing in mind the downside of uric acid.
Our bodies convert the purines (notably the above-mentioned adenosine and guanosine) into uric acid, a build-up of which can cause gout. This happens because uric acid becomes deposited as pin-shaped crystals in the body’s tissues, leading to a sharp, arthritic pain, especially in the joints.
An increased level of purines inevitably causes greater production of uric acid and its associated problems. Indeed, back in the eighteenth century many people suffered from gout as a result of drinking heavily, combined with eating too much meat, especially game, beef, kidneys, sweetbreads (which are neither sweet nor bread, but made from an animal’s pancreas and thymus glands) and liver.
A study of patients with a history of gout attacks, co-authored by Prof. Yuqing Zhang of Boston University and published in the “Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases,” 2012, found that attacks increased by almost 40 percent when purine intake went up from less than one gram to 1.75 grams over a 2-day period.
Clearly, it would be better to obtain the benefits of uridine without the drawbacks of uric acid retention. Is this possible?
Benefits Without Drawbacks
In the first study mentioned above (by T. Yamamoto and others) the scientists were careful to make a distinction between the action of the purines and those of the uridine. They concluded:
“These results suggest that the purines in beer played a major role in the increase in the plasma concentration of uric acid, while both uridine and ethanol in beer had a significant effect on the increase in plasma concentration of uridine.”
So, yes, it should be possible to obtain the neurological benefits of uridine without the drawbacks of increased levels of retained uric acid. In the absence of mother’s milk, adults can find it in today’s advanced nootropics.
Uridine is one of the precursor components of ribonucleic acid (RNA), used by the brain for synaptic formation and functioning. It can be stacked with Omega-3 supplements (krill oil and fish oil) and with CDP-choline in the form of Alpha-GPC (Alpha-glycerophosphocholine), a cholinergic compound that promotes improved cognition.
CDP-choline itself metabolizes into tiny amounts of uridine, but not in sufficient quantities to have a noticeable effect. Choline is an essential micronutrient in its own right, acting notably as an anti-aging neurotransmitter, while also helping to support the body’s glandular and digestive systems.
On its own, the standard dosage for uridine is between 500mg and 1000mg per day. Normally, this is taken in 250mg individual dosages, for example as twice in the morning, once in the afternoon and another in the evening. It is available as capsules, tablets or powder.
No side effects have been reported since uridine became a popular nootropic a few years ago. The same can’t be said for the side effects of beer.