During heart surgery, blood flow to the heart is stopped temporarily, and after a heart attack, blood flow is slowed. In both these cases, the heart becomes stressed and its function is compromised. This can progressively worsen and result in heart failure.
Depressed heart function is caused by a decreased production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), an energy-carrying molecule in heart cells. But enhancing ATP production with ribose can speed recovery, according to animal studies presented at the American Heart Association's 2011 Scientific Sessions in New Orleans.
Ribose Speeds Recovery
According to the new study, ribose, given at the time of heart surgery, shaved eight days off of how long it took dog hearts to recover after the surgery.
And when rats received intravenous ribose for two weeks after a heart attack, the simple sugar prevented further damage to the heart and helped preserve its function.
According to study researcher John E. Foker, MD, PhD, of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, ATP levels following a major muscle stress don't just bounce back. "It can take days to recover."
This may occur after a heart attack, heart surgery, or after vigorous exercise in healthy people such as marathoners, he says.
"A simple way to enhance recovery is to give ribose," he says. "We usually say it takes 5 to10 grams two or three times during the 12 to 24 hours after the heavy exercise," he says. "Ribose is simple and your cells will only use it to enhance ATP production, not as fuel."
"People don't feel as stiff afterwards and seem to have more energy," he says.
Will It Work in Humans?
Stanley Rockson, MD, a cardiologist at Stanford University School of Medicine, urges caution in interpreting the new findings.
"This looks like it could work its way into treatment for heart attack and acute heart failure, but there are many steps in between seeing it in animal models and saying it is effective and safe in people," he says.
"We understand why it might help and it also worked in these models, so it makes you think there is reason to pursue in human settings," he says.
Alberto Montalvo, MD, a cardiologist at Bradenton Cardiology Center in Florida, is on the same page as Rockson.
"Yes, it makes sense to some degree, but it is still too early to know what this means," he says. "It is premature to know if it will yield good long-term results or not."
This study was presented at a medical conference. The findings should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.