What Are Nucleotides? Part 2 - Sources

In part 1 of this series we described nucleotides (and the nucleic acids built from them) as one of the four main components in every cell of our bodies. They are distinct from and complementary to carbohydrates, lipids and proteins.

This episode we’ll look at the origins of the nucleotides in your body.


There are three sources for the nucleotides your body needs:

    1)  You make them from scratch,

    2)  You recycle , or

    3)  You get them from your diet.

    The majority of the nucleotides your body needs are newly built. This process is a complicated twelve-step assembly line. It requires substantial inputs of energy to transform the raw materials into functional nucleotides. Your body prioritizes this process because the ability to reproduce your genetic code is the basis of all life.

    The second source is the recycling of nucleotides from cells that die. The cells of your body have different life spans depending on the stresses they experience. The cells in your gut, the lining of your stomach and intestines, are continually bathed in acid and bile (and alcohol & chili peppers, depending on your diet). They turn over in less than a week. The same with your skin as it rubs and scrapes the outside world. As cells die, your body salvages nucleotides and other compounds.

    Your diet is the third source of nucleotides. Whole foods with intact cells all contain DNA and RNA. Think of meat, fish and vegetables, compared to sugar, salt and olive oil. Cell density determines the concentration of nucleotides available, with organ meats and whole fish being the richest food sources. Most people consume an average of 1-2 grams of nucleotides each day.

    The availability of nucleotides from your diet is complicated. While they begin as nucleic acids and nucleotides, the majority get broken down further into smaller parts. When you remove the phosphate group from a nucleotide you get a simpler molecule called a nucleoside. The cells of your gut lining, the ones with a life span of less than a week, prefer to absorb the nucleoside form.


    Stay with us as we explore future topics. There are some surprising twists and turns in this story.

    Also in this Series

       What Are Nucleotides? Part 1 - Basics 

            .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

       What Are Nucleotides? Part 3 - Uses 

       What Are Nucleotides? Part 4 - Microbiome