Pyruvate supplements (some of which contain small amounts of dihydroxyacetone, which is converted to pyruvate in the body) have become increasingly popular because of the wide variety of claims associated with them. Promoters of pyruvate credit the supplements with everything from weight and fat loss to improved exercise endurance to cholesterol lowering, but the evidence supporting these claims is pretty thin.
What are the possible benefits of pyruvate?
Media and marketing claims:
- enhancing weight loss (fat loss)
- for athletic performance (increasing energy levels)
- cholesterol lowering
Pyruvate supplements are typically marketed to enhance weight loss and increase energy levels.
What in fact is pyruvate?
Pyruvate is a salt form of pyruvic acid—a three-carbon molecule derived from the breakdown of glucose. The form of pyruvic acid found in dietary supplements is combined with various minerals such as sodium, calcium, magnesium, and potassium to improve stability. In the body, glucose (six carbons) is split into two pyruvic acid molecules (three carbons each) in the end stages of cellular glycolysis. When enough oxygen is present, pyruvic acid can be converted into acetyl coenzyme A in the mitochondrion of the cell to produce energy. Because glucose (the chief sugar used by cells for energy) is broken down in the body into pyruvic acid, an increased level of pyruvic acid in the body is theorized to enhance a cell’s ability to generate energy.
Clinical data, though limited, supports the effect of pyruvate as an effective supplement for weight loss. The problem, however, is that most commercial products contain less than 1 g of this ingredient per serving—or about 20-50 times less than the levels shown to be effective in the available clinical studies. Even in the studies of multigram feeding that show a benefit in pyruvate supplements, the more than 20 g of pyruvate used was only marginally effective in inducing weight loss.
Research & scientific support
In general, the clinical support for this ingredient as either a weight loss aid or a way to boost energy levels is weak. A handful of human studies from the same laboratory (Stanko et al., 1992a, 1992b, 1994, 1996) have shown that daily consumption of 22-44 g of pyruvate over 3-4 weeks can help improve loss of body fat and body weight and may help to slow weight regain and reaccumulation of body fat following a weight loss diet. Overall, the difference in weight loss between the pyruvate supplement and placebo groups was not large, amounting to approximately 1.1-1.6 kg (about 2-3 lb) additional weight loss in the pyruvate groups.
Dosage / safety
Pyruvate supplements are available in capsule, tablet, and bulk powder form. It is commonly included as an ingredient in so-called fat-burning supplements as well as paired with creatine as a sport supplement.
Although 1-5 g/day of pyruvate are typically recommended, that dosage is primarily a marketing consideration (people will actually pay for products with that much pyruvate). Most commercial preparations contain 500 mg (0,5 g) to 1 g of pyruvate, with 2-3 servings/day recommended. Existing clinical studies have used daily doses of more than 20 g of this substance (which would be far too expensive to sell as a dietary supplement).
There are no studies testing the safety of pyruvate supplementation for more then 6 weeks. No significant side effects are expected with the levels of this substance found in most commercially available dietary supplements (which is typically quite low). In some studies, subjects consuming relatively large doses of pyruvate have reported minor gastrointestinal disturbances such as diarrhea and flatulence.
Pyruvate is found in animal products; however, food sources have not been quantified.
Closing thoughts about pyruvate supplementation
Commercially available pyruvate supplements are not available in the high doses used in many of the research studies. However, most likely this ingredient will help you to enhance weight loss and increase energy levels but only if taken in higher doses.
In all of the areas where pyruvate supplementation is claimed to be beneficial, there are problems with the research— in terms of both quality and quantity. What’s more, much of the research on pyruvate supplements has been conducted by one researcher, involved small numbers of people, and hasn’t been duplicated by other researchers or with larger groups. Finally, no studies have shown that the small amounts of pyruvate in commercially available supplements have any beneficial effects whatsoever.