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Orotic acid is a naturally-occurring substance produced in the human body by intestinal flora. The acid is also known as vitamin B13 or pyrimidinecarboxylic acid. It is not actually a vitamin, but was originally classified as such after being added to the diets of laboratory animals in the 1960s. The addition of it to their food encouraged heart health and showed other vitamin-like benefits.
The main functions of this acid are to metabolize folic acid along with vitamin B12. An abundance of orotic acid acts as a counter for vitamin B12 deficiency, and has a sparing effect on B12 in the body. An abundance of orotic acid is used in place of vitamin B12 — not by completely replacing it, but by slowing the down the damage done by a B12 deficiency.
This acid is used in cosmetics, medical products, and as an animal feed supplement. It is also utilized in the world of competitive bodybuilding, as it is thought to increase the production of adenosine triphosphate(ATP), which is the body's main energy source. Orotic acid does this by acting as a precursor to phosphoribosylpyrophosphate (PRPP), which in turn is used in pyrimidine biosynthesis. The greater the amount of PRPP present in a body, the more ATP can be produced.
Orotates, or the salts of this orotic acid, are also used in commercial applications, as mineral carriers for dietary supplements. One example of this is lithium orotate, which is a combination of lithium and orotic acid salt. This is often used to treat stress, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and alcoholism.
It is widely available for commercial purchase, and is often recommended by naturopaths as an alternative to lithium carbonate. There are studies, however, such as one conducted by Smith and Schou in 1979, that demonstrate that lithium orotate is cleared far less efficiently by the kidneys than other lithium supplements. This had led to some concern that lithium orotate may do more harm than good.
The chemical structure of orotic acid makes it a heterocyclic compound. These are organic and contain at least one atom of carbon in addition to one element other than carbon, such as nitrogen or oxygen. They form a ring structure when assembled.
An excess of orotic acid leads to a condition known as orotic aciduria. This condition can be hereditary or brought on by excessive consumption. In adults, it causes an interruption of the urea cycle. In children, it can cause inhibition of DNA and RNA synthesis leading to mental or physical damage.