Ribose is an organic compound, and specifically it is a monosaccharide (a simple sugar) with all its ‘hydroxyl groups’ on the same side. The term ribose is normally used to refer to ‘D-Ribose’ which is a form found commonly in nature and thus used in various supplements.
D-Ribose is the ‘backbone’ of RNA – the ‘Ribonucleic Acid’ which is a string of DNA nucleotides that encode genetic information. The ‘mRNA’ form of RNA is used to synthesize protein, while others play a role as catalysts in biological reactions and gene expression. It is also used by the mitochondria in the production of ATP, or ‘adenosine triphosphate’, which is the ‘energy currency’ of life and which is used by the body to power movements and other activity.
Due to its role in creating ATP, ribose is highly effective in treating fatigue. By helping the body to produce more ARP it is possible to power movements for longer before the body is forced to turn to other sources of energy such as stored fat which is less efficient. This can help to reduce stiffness and cramping and general lethargy.
It was found in one study that ribose could improve energy levels, sleep, mental clarity and overall wellbeing.
Ribose is often used to help treat heart conditions. The reasoning behind this is that by ensuring there is more ATP available for the heat to continue beating healthily so as to avoid it losing strength and energy over time.
Despite its ability to improve energy levels and treat fatigue, the effects have not yet been found to be noticeable enough to be a worthwhile supplement for athletes. Other supplements such as creatine (which recycles used ATP (called AMP and ADP)) and resveratrol which improves mitochondrial function, have been found to be more effective. Despite its role in RNA, studies have not been conducted into the effectiveness of ribose in hypertrophy (muscle building).
Ribose does occur naturally in our diets, but unfortunately it doesn’t occur in high enough quantities to have any measurable impact on our energy. As such, it is recommended that those who suffer from fatigue or heart conditions supplement their diet with extra ribose.
The downside of this is that ribose is quite expensive at around $30-$60 for a month’s course. You should speak with your doctor before attempting to self-medicate, and you should consider cheaper alternatives such as creatine, or more effective alternatives such as resveratrol first.