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Introduction

It is difficult to make oxaloacetic acid (or oxaloacetate) sound exciting, it is a boringly named molecule that helps the body to produce energy and may help protect it against certain forms of cancer. Ten years ago, this article would not exist. Not because Oxaloacetic acid did not exist (it absolutely did) but because the study of nootropics was in its infancy. These days most people who take supplements are aware of the benefits of taking nootropics.

Many supplement companies have jumped onto the buzz around Oxaloacetic acid, and some are touting it as the next big thing in anti-aging. But how accurate is this? Is oxaloacetic acid a supplement that can help cure cancer and allow you to live longer? Or is it another waste of time and money? The aim of this article is to determine once and for all which is the right answer.

What Is Oxaloacetic Acid?

We’re going to try and make this description as simple as possible; we don’t really want to sound like your chemistry teacher! All you need is a general background.

Firstly, there is the name. In this article we will be referring to oxaloacetic acid and oxaloacetate as though they are the same thing, and for all intents and purposes they are. Oxaloacetate is the ionized form of oxaloacetic acid. Most supplements or nootropics use oxaloacetate.

Examine.com describes it thus: “Oxaloacetate, the common name for the molecule 3-carboxy-3-oxypropanoic acid and synonymous with oxaloacetic acid (depending on acidity” [1]. Synonymous meaning that they are basically the same. There are slight differences, but for the purposes of this article we will think of the two as basically the same.

Oxaloacetate is an important part of the Citric Acid Cycle (sometimes known as the Krebs cycle). The purpose of the Citric Acid Cycle is to oxidize Acetyl-CoA from the food we eat (protein, fat, and carbohydrates) and turn it into ATP (Adenosine TriPhosphate). If you haven’t fallen asleep yet (and nobody would blame you if you had) you may remember that ATP is the basically the body’s energy currency. Creating ATP is necessary if you enjoy walking, thinking, moving, or any other function.

The function of oxaloacetate in the Citric Acid Cycle is to combine with Acetyl-CoA to form citrate. Oxaloacetate is then formed at the end of the cycle from the oxidation of L-Malate.

But the Citric Acid Cycle is not the only system where oxaloacetate is important. It is also used in gluconeogenesis (where your body creates glucose from amino acids, lactate, and fatty acids). It is also involved in the urea cycle (where ammonia is converted into urea which is eventually removed from the body via urine) and in the formation of amino acids and fatty acids.

The Bottom Line: As you can see, oxaloacetic acid is a very useful molecule which is crucial for several functions within the body. Oxaloacetate is used by the body to convert food into usable energy, for creation of amino acids and fatty acids, and it is also used to remove ammonia via urea.

Can You Find Oxaloacetic Acid Naturally?

Oxaloacetic acid is formed from Malate through a process known as malate dehydrogenase during the citric acid cycle. This cycle is closed, meaning that the oxaloacetic acid helps to create the malate which is then used to create the oxaloacetic acid.

As a cellular metabolite oxaloacetic acid cannot be increased via food sources. The idea behind supplementation is to artificially increase the amount of oxaloacetic acid in the body.

Benefits Of Oxaloacetic Acid

The following benefits are ones that are commonly ascribed to oxaloacetic acid/oxaloacetate supplementation. They are not confirmed benefits, just supposed ones. In other words, take this information with a pinch of salt.

Oxaloacetic Acid May Lower Blood Sugar Levels

Over the years there have been several studies on the effect of oxaloacetic acid supplementation on diabetes. A 1968 study by Kiyohiko Yoshikawa found that giving oxaloacetate salts to people with both Type I and Type II diabetes led to an improvement in blood sugar levels [2]. However, there is not enough evidence that this works, and the practice is not used on diabetics today. Meaning that there are more effective, and better-proven methods for treating high blood sugar levels.

Oxaloacetic Acid May Help Alzheimer’s Sufferers

This next benefit is one that on paper makes a lot of sense, but in practice does not appear to work. This does not mean that it doesn’t work, just that there is insufficient evidence so far. Alzheimer’s disease is an age-related disease that is most likely caused by increased inflammation of the brain, reduced insulin, and reduced mitochondria.

A study on rats with Alzheimer’s by Wilkins et al (2014) found that taking oxaloacetate enhances insulin, activates mitochondria in the brain, and reduces inflammation [3]. These results have yet to be replicated in human studies though, and according to certain sources, it may in fact lead to a worsening of side-effects; there is a lot of potential here, but more research is clearly required.

Oxaloacetic Acid Protects The Brain

One of the functions of oxaloacetic acid is to work with an enzyme called glutamate oxaloacetate to regulate glutamate by breaking it down. Glutamate is actually a crucial neurotransmitter, but if levels of glutamate rise too high it can actually lead to brain damage.

Studies have shown that high levels of glutamate can cause brain damage in the mammalian brain [5]. A study on mice found that injecting oxaloacetate in large doses led to a 30-40% reduction in serum glutamate [6]. By reducing high-levels of glutamate, oxaloacetic acid may help to protect the brain from damage.

Oxaloacetic Acid May Increase Lifespan

There is a lot of research going into the effects of caloric restriction on longevity (lifespan). Oxaloacetic acid appears to be able to mimic the effects of caloric restriction.

At the moment there is zero evidence that oxaloacetic acid can increase lifespan in humans, however there is evidence that administering oxaloacetic acid to earthworms can lead to a 13% increase in lifespan [8].

Oxaloacetic Acid May Help Prevent Cancer

Glutamate has also been linked with brain tumors and cancer. Oxaloacetic acid can help to break down glutamate to prevent this. It can also prevent glutamine breakdown which can help speed up tumor growth.

Is It Safe?

There does not appear to be any issues related to taking oxaloacetic acid, and it would be fair to say that any supplements would be harmless.

What Are The Side Effects Of Oxaloacetic Acid?

As of the time of writing this article, there are no reported side-effects to supplementing with oxaloacetic acid.

Conclusion

With zero side effects related to it oxaloacetic acid appears to be a safe supplement to take. But does that mean that it is worth taking? In our opinion it is not. None of the benefits that are mentioned have enough scientific evidence to support them.

Theoretically, there are a lot of potential benefits – but they just don’t seem all that likely. Thanks to the Citric Acid Cycle you have a constant natural supply of oxaloacetate, and there doesn’t appear to be any benefit to taking any more than that.

Hopefully more research will be carried out on this molecule, and these potential benefits will be explored further – either confirming or denying them and drawing a line under everything. Too many supplement companies are using the lack of research as an excuse to make outrageous claims about anti-aging properties, increased lifespan, and a potential cure for cancer.

Oxaloacetic acid may deliver on all of these promises, but it is unlikely. Save your money and look into other supplements that can increase energy, lower blood sugar levels, and potentially help prevent brain damage, dementia, or similar. There are many alternatives out there.

Matthew Smith, BSc
Matthew Smith, BSc
Staff Writer & Fact Checker at DietProbe
Matthew Smith is a qualified sports scientist and registered exercise professional. He's a fitness and nutrition enthusiast and has a background in coaching and personal training.
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This article has been reviewed and fact-checked by a certified nutritionist, and only uses information from credible academic sources.