A Highly Effective Anti-Aging Supplement
By Ward Dean, MD
Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw’s 1982 bestselling book, Life Extension— A Practical, Scientific Approach (more than 2.5 million copies sold), is generally recognized as the spark that ignited the currently popular field of anti-aging/life extension medicine. Pearson and Shaw’s blockbuster extolled the free radical theory of aging and introduced the terms free radicals and antioxidants to millions of non-scientist health enthusiasts. However, Pearson and Shaw’s success was partially due to another popular book that helped to pave the way, which preceded their publication by six years.
In 1976, a pioneering New York medical doctor named Benjamin Frank created a minor sensation with his book—Dr. Frank’s No-Aging Diet. Dr. Frank was unique. He was not only an MD, but also had a PhD in biochemistry. He was simultaneously a practicing physician and researcher, performing anti-aging experiments with mice and rats in addition to taking care of his patients.
Dr. Frank was ahead of his time. He was an early advocate of high-dose vitamin therapy (especially Bs, C, & E), plus other nutrients not well known or available in the early ’60s through the mid-’70s when he did most of his research. For example, he recommended the use of carnosine, CoQ10, lipoic acid, DMG (then known as “Vitamin B15”), glycerol phosphate (magnesium glycerophosphate — he believed several grams per day promoted cell membrane integrity, and also restored receptors), vanadium, orotic acid, lecithin, choline, and inositol. A further indication of his foresight was his recommendation of the use of biguanide drugs like metformin, which is now becoming recognized as one of the most effective anti-aging drugs currently available (see my article, Metformin—An Effective and Underappreciated Life Extension Drug, in the November 1998 issue of Vitamin Research News).
Dr. Frank’s Theory of Aging
Dr. Frank theorized that aging and degenerative diseases are caused by the loss of cellular energy production (ATP) due to membrane damage and decreased efficiency of the Kreb’s cycle and the associated electron transport chain. He also believed that damage to cellular DNA from free radicals and crosslinkages could not be repaired due to inadequate cellular energy and availability of “raw materials” (i.e., nucleotides and nucleic acids [Fig.1.]) to repair the DNA. He believed that this decay of DNA further led to improper formation of messenger RNA and ribosomal RNA, which in turn led to abnormalities and structural defects in the cell. Frank’s theory is clearly related to the mitochondrial, free radical, crosslinkage, and membrane theories of aging, all previously discussed in Vitamin Research News.
The key difference between Dr. Frank’s theory and the approach used by advocates of the other related theories is the specific anti-aging therapy that he recommended—high-dose nucleic acids, combined with high potency multivitamins. Dr. Frank did not discount the approaches recommended by other researchers—he believed, however, that their methods (i.e., antioxidants, cross-linkage inhibitors) would not be effective unless combined with adequate amounts of RNA.
Dr. Frank believed that one cause of inadequate concentrations of RNA and nucleotides for repair and production of energy is an age-related increase in enzymes that destroy nucleic acids (i.e., nucleases—specifically, ribonuclease, which breaks down RNA). As people grow older, ribonuclease enzyme activity has been reported to increase. Consequently, just as the requirement to repair damaged cells increases, the substances required for this repair (nucleic acids) are being degraded by higher concentrations of destructive enzymes. Consequently, Dr. Frank believed older people have an even higher requirement for nucleic acids than younger people. Thus, the older we get, the greater our need for nucleic acids, both for replacement and for repair.
Nucleic Acids as Potential Life Extending, Disease-Preventing Nutrients
Dr. Frank believed that exogenous RNA, especially when combined with associated B vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and sugars (like D-ribose) would enter the cell and aid in normal regeneration of the damaged cellular elements. This would, in turn, bring about normal enzyme synthesis and activation, and most importantly would increase cellular energy production. For this reason, Frank believed that providing RNA and associated compounds would aid in the repair of damaged DNA. He knew that ribonucleic acid is important in the initiation of DNA synthesis, acting in a coenzyme-like fashion. Dr. Frank stated, “The importance of nucleic acids in protein synthesis and in enzyme synthesis, as well as the importance of RNA in bringing about DNA synthesis, and the actually observed anti-aging effects of nucleic acids on whole man, support the claims regarding the value of increased intake of nucleic acids in the prevention and treatment of cellular degeneration.”
Dr. Frank claimed that not only do nucleic acids (1) decrease overall oxygen utilization, but also (2) increase its inherent effectiveness, lessening potential oxidative damage to the cell. He believed that the “anti-anoxia effect” of nucleic acids (ability to do better work on less oxygen) was due to the increased synthesis of CoQ10 and enhancement of the efficiency of Kreb’s cycle and respiratory chain. He believed nucleic acids might even lead to increased synthesis of mitochondria.
|Effects of Nucleic Acids
Dr. Frank described the dramatic results of his use of oral and injectable ribonucleic acid in the prevention and treatment of a wide variety of age-related illnesses. He used a nucleic acid-rich diet and nucleic acid extracts for a variety of ills including emphysema, heart disease, diabetic complications, arthritis, fading eyesight, memory loss, and other diseases of aging. He believed that nucleic acids should be considered as essential nutrients, along with fats, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals.
Dr. Frank reported that a common finding of those on a high nucleic acid diet was a normalization of blood lipid levels. This was reflected by a drop in total cholesterol and triglycerides, and an elevation of HDL. He believed that the cholesterol-lowering effect of nucleic acid-rich diets was due to increased ATP formation, enhanced electron transport chain activity, improved CoQ10 and cytochrome oxidase synthesis, and increased NADH oxidation.
He also reported that some of the earliest noticeable effects of RNA therapy were increased energy, followed by improved skin tone, with increased elasticity and reduction in fine wrinkles. He frequently referred to the skin-tightening effect, causing folds to diminish and the skin to acquire a tighter and more youthful appearance.
Frank’s dietary recommendations included:
- Four days per week—eat one can of small sardines.
- Eat fish on the other three days.
- Calve’s liver once/week
- Lentils, peas, lima beans, or soybeans.
- Asparagus, radishes, onions, scallions, mushrooms, spinach, cauliflower, or celery.
- Seven glasses of fluid per day—4 of water, 2 milk, and 1 vegetable.
While most modern nutritionists attribute the benefits of a high fish diet to the concentration of omega 3 fatty acids, Dr. Frank was of the opinion that it was primarily due to the high content of nucleic acids in most fish, and especially in sardines. (He did not discount the possible benefit of the omega 3 fatty acids, but believed that they were merely a synergistic adjunct to the nucleic acids.) He reported that sardines contain 1.5 percent nucleic acid, liver approximately 0.5 percent, and muscle meat 0.05 percent. Consequently, Dr. Frank had many anti-aging activists in the mid-’70s eating sardines like crazy. (Frankly, I got sick of eating sardine sandwiches!)
Dr. Frank recommended consuming a minimum of 1.5 gm daily of nucleic acid for general health and well being. However, he recommended much higher doses for those with specific health concerns. He cautioned, however, that when taking higher therapeutic doses of RNA, that urine pH be only slightly in the acid range. He found that highly acidic urine with a high RNA diet (more than 2 gm daily) may result in elevated levels of uric acid in the blood, which can cause kidney stones. This can be easily prevented by drinking plenty of water. Urine acid-base balance (pH) can be easily tested by using urine pH test strips.
Clinically, Dr. Frank used dosages of RNA between 500 mg-20 gm. He usually recommended the higher doses (over 5 grams) be used several times per week. If dosages higher than 2 gm daily were taken, Dr. Frank recommended doing so under the care of a physician, where BUN, creatinine and uric acid levels could be monitored, and recommended that the urine pH be maintained near 6 (i.e., between 5.0-7.0). Dr. Frank stated that those with uric acid of 2-3 mg can take considerably larger amounts of nucleic acid than those with levels closer to 5, 6, or 7 mg. Higher amounts of uric acid can be better tolerated in near alkaline urine than in very acid urine. It should be noted that he never observed any problems in people with normal kidney function, who drank adequate fluids and maintained urine pH in the desired range. He recommended that additional protection could be gained by consuming adequate amounts (500-1,000 mg) of magnesium each day.
Historical Basis of RNA as an Anti-Aging Supplement
Dr. Frank was not the first to experiment with nucleic acids. In 1908, Dr. C.S. Minot first proposed that nucleic acids were vital for the health of cells and were essential for the longevity of the organism. However, the first evidence that nucleic acids might actually promote longevity was demonstrated by a series of experiments conducted by Dr. T. Brailsford Robertson in Australia in 1928. Dr. Robertson believed that the lifespan of organisms was determined by the ratio of nuclear (chromosomal) materials to the cytoplasm (protein) of the cells. He referred to this ratio as the “nucleocytoplasmic ratio”—and proposed that the way to optimize this ratio was to supply the nuclei of the organism with nutrients in “excessive abundance.”
He tested his hypothesis in a series of experiments. He used 30-40 male and 30-40 female mice in each test group, with a similar group of controls in each experiment. The test groups received 25 mg of yeast nucleic acid each day throughout their lives. Robertson’s hypothesis was apparently confirmed, as the results were strikingly and uniformly positive. He reported an average lifespan extension of 12.5 percent for males, and 17 percent for females (Fig. 3).
Despite these positive, provocative results, almost twenty years elapsed before any further research was done in this area. In the mid-1940s, Dr. Thomas Gardner, an organic chemist in the scientific department of Hoffman-La Roche, picked up where Robertson had left off. Gardner agreed with Robertson’s hypothesis that the nucleocytoplasmic ratio decreased with aging, but was not convinced that correcting this ratio was the mechanism of RNA’s life-prolonging effects. He proposed several other possible mechanisms for these benefits. He suggested that nucleic acids might slow down the metabolism of the nucleus of the cell. He reasoned that if nucleic acids were provided to the cell in high amounts, they could be utilized in metabolism without destroying the nucleus or cytoplasm, and thereby enable the cells to live longer at a higher energy level. Alternatively, he theorized that the life-prolonging effect of yeast nucleic acid might be due to its ability to stimulate the immune system, since sodium yeast nucleinate was known to stimulate the growth and proliferation of white blood cells (leukocytes). He equated this to the proposed anti-aging effects of Anti-Reticulo Cytotoxic Serum (ARCS) then being used in Russia (Bogomolets). ARCS was briefly reviewed in the August, 2003 issue of Vitamin Research News.
Whatever the mechanism, Gardner attempted to replicate Robertson’s work, with several modifications. First, he began his studies with mice that were 600 days old (instead of beginning treatment after weaning, as Robertson had done), because “mice are beginning to get old at that age.” Also, he believed that Robertson’s dosages were unrealistically high. He calculated that 25 mg per mouse per day would translate into a human dose of 55 gm per day. Gardner was apparently considering human use of RNA, and realized that few humans could consume such high doses. Consequently, Gardner administered 1/10th of the dosage used by Robertson, resulting in a daily RNA dosage of 2.5 mg per mouse per day. This corresponded to an equivalent human dosage of 5.5 grams per day, which Gardner believed could be practically consumed.
Gardner used 72 female and 31 male albino mice, divided into test and control groups. Gardner reported that the treated mice retained vitality and vigor longer than the controls, fewer went blind, and the treated mice appeared healthier and exhibited greater activity than the controls. Although the lifespan extension of the mice receiving nucleic acids was not as great as reported by Robertson, there was an overall trend toward increased longevity in the nucleic acid-treated mice. Gardner attributed his less spectacular results to the fact that he started the experiment when the mice were already advanced in age, and that the dosage was so much less than that administered by Robertson.
Interestingly, Gardner reported that Robertson and his staff had taken 15 gm yeast nucleic acid per day, and that Gardner himself (perhaps as a result of observing his healthy mice) had been taking 5 gm of yeast nucleic acid for weeks “without any ill effects.” He concluded that “As Robertson tested with three times the amounts I have suggested for [human] use, there is no reason known at the present time for fearing to use yeast nucleic acid freely for veterinary experimental purposes…and…for extending their life spans as well as for experimental therapy on aging men and women for the same purpose.”
Nearly another twenty years were to elapse before further experiments with RNA were conducted—this time with even more spectacular results. Dr. Max Odens conducted a study with ten 750-day-old rats, of a species that had a normal lifespan of 800-900 days. Five rats were untreated controls. The other five received weekly injections of “DNA solution in water…plus ordinary RNA.” Unfortunately, details of the exact composition and dosage that was administered were not given. After twelve weeks of injections, Odens reported that the treated rats looked younger, were very lively, and had gained weight, in contrast to the untreated rats which “looked old, moved slowly, did not eat much, and had lost weight. The difference was remarkable.” Odens further reported that all of the untreated rats died before 900 days, while 4 of the treated rats survived between 1600 and 1900 days, and one rat lived 2250 days! Odens concluded that “with weekly injections of DNA and RNA, the life span of 4 rats was doubled on the average, and the life span of the fifth rat was more than trebled.” These results are frankly, hard to believe. But some credence must be given this report, considering the journal in which it was published—the prestigious Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
The claims for the life-extending benefit of nucleic acid administration are supported by a diverse series of experiments that span nearly 50 years. Based on these findings and the reports by Dr. Frank of its widespread clinical benefits with human use, I consequently agree with Dr. Frank’s recommendation to add at least 1.5 grams per day of nucleic acids to an anti-aging nutritional supplement regimen. This recommendation is buttressed by the facts that two of the research teams admitted taking high dose nucleic acids themselves, after seeing the effects they had on their experimental animals, and that the third researcher also recommended consideration of nucleic acid supplementation for human and veterinary use. It is surprising that more researchers have not attempted to replicate these studies—especially when considering the high degree of safety and minimal cost of high quality yeast-derived nucleic acids that are available today. :
1. Minot, C.S., The Problem of Age, Growth and Death, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1908, New York.
2. Frank, G. Nucleic Acid Therapy in Aging and Degenerative Disease—A Metabolic Approach with DNA, RNA and Related Metabolites, Psychological Library, New York, 1968.
3. Frank, B. Dr. Frank’s No-Aging Diet. The Dial Press, New York, 1976.
4. Frank, B. Nucleic Acid & Antioxidant Therapy of Aging & Degeneration. Royal Health Books, Ltd, Long Island, NY 1977.
5. Robertson, T. Brailsford. On the influence of nucleic acids of various origin upon the growth and longevity of the white mouse. Australian J Exp Biol Med Sci, 1928, 5: 47-67.
6. Gardner, T. The effect of yeast nucleic acid on the survival time of 600 day old albino mice. J Gerontol, 1946, 1: 445-456.
7. Odens, M. Prolongation of the life span in rats. J American Geriatrics Soc, 1973, XXI: 450-451.
8. Bogomolets, A.A. Anti-reticular cytotoxic serum as a means of pathogenic therapy, Am Rev Soviet Med, 1943, 1: 101-112.