Malic Acid is Sour! But it’s Great for Mitochondria
by Nils Osmar. Updated May 14, 2022
In this article, I’ll be talking about the health and anti-aging benefits of a familiar compound called malic acid. Nothing in this article is intended as, or should be taken as, medical advice.
I get a little leery of bloggers who talk about supplements playing spectacular or miraculous roles in the body. But malic acid actually comes close to fitting that description.
It’s a very tart tasting organic acid found in some types of fruit, and also produced internally in the body. It’s so tart and sour that some people have a hard time figuring out how to use it! But it has plays some key roles in the body, so I’ve been motivated to try.
Malic acid is a key component in the Krebs cycle, which provides the energy that keeps our cells in operation. It’s a key player in the creation of adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, a primary energy carrier which plays a role in both DNA replication and muscle contraction.
It promotes a process called glycolysis in the mitochondria, which helps our cells extract energy from glucose, converting carbohydrates into energy that can be used by the body.
If its role in energy conversion was all that it did, I’d already want to take it as a supplement. But it has several other very interesting anti-aging benefits.
When applied topically, some studies suggest that it increases the hydration of the skin and the production of collagen. Skin benefits may include fewer blemishes, fewer fine lines and wrinkles, more even skin tone, smoother skin texture, and possible improvement in acne. It’s included in a lot of skin and beauty products for these reasons, and because it help help with removing dead cells through exfoliation.
Taken internally, it’s been found to extend the lifespan of C. Elegans, to increase NAD levels in the body, and to improve the ratio of NAD to NADH.
One benefit is that it increases the absorption of creatine. A study published in the journal Acta Physiologica Hungarica in 2015 looked at the effects of a creatine-malate supplement on both sprinters and long-distance runners. After several weeks of supplementation, the researchers noted a significant increase in growth hormone in the sprinters, and an increase in lean muscle mass in both groups. The long-distance runners found that there was a significant increase in how much distance they were able to cover.
Here’s me talking about malic acid and mitochondria:
It appears to increase both stamina and cognition, particularly when it’s taken along with magnesium. And one recent study found that the combination of magnesium and malic acid significantly reduced the muscle and soft tissue pain associated with arthritis. One form that combines the two compounds is magnesium malate. In this form, it has benefits for bone, joint and liver health.
Possible side effects include lowering blood pressure, which might be good under some circumstances but bad in others. When taken internally, it can sometimes cause stomach upset from it sourness. But it’s generally recognized as safe.
If you want to increase your malic acid, you can do so by taking supplements or eating more fruit. Food sources include blackberries and blueberries, pomegranate, cherries and apricots, and some types of citrus fruit. Two of the richest sources are watermelon and apples.
Fruit’s a very good source, but one problem is that it can be high in fructose. So some people prefer to supplement with malic acid. There are lots of good supplements; the one I’m currently buying is from kitchen alchemy. It’s a food grade powder designed to add to jams, jellies and other items to give them a tart taste. I like adding a little powder to yogurt, then mixing it with some berries or chunks of apple and sweetening it with some allulose or stevia.
If you take it, remember that it works well with creatine and with magnesium. I like taking creatine at the end of my workouts; I add some malate to help with absorption. For cognitive benefits, I like taking it along with magnesium, either as magnesium malate, or by taking a scoop of malic acid along with some magnesium threonate, a special form of magnesium which crosses the blood-brain barrier.