Malic Acid Benefits, Uses, Side Effects and Foods - Dr. Axe

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Malic Acid Benefits Energy Levels, Skin Health & More


Malic acid - Dr. Axe

As an organic compound, you can find malic acid in things that you likely eat often, such as apples. It’s also present in wine and several other food sources.

Is malic acid natural?

Yes, it can be naturally found in many kinds of fruits and vegetables.

You can also find it in supplements and skin care. In those cases, sometimes it’s natural, but sometimes it’s synthetic.

Is malic acid good for your skin?

It’s actually considered an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA), which is a group of acids that are often included skin care products for their skin-rejuvenating abilities.

AHAs are known to help a wide range of skin concerns, including wrinkles, dry skin and acne.

What does malic acid do for health?

The body uses it for energy production, which is why some people take it as a supplement for health concerns like chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. It’s also sometimes taken to enhance athletic performance.

But that’s not all! Read on to learn more about this interesting natural compound.

What Is Malic Acid?

Carl Wilhelm Scheele, a Swedish pharmacist, originally discovered this acid in apples in 1785. The name malic actually comes from the Latin name of apple, which is malum.

Apples are the No. 1 natural source. In fact, of an apple’s total acid content, over 90 percent is malic acid.

One malic acid definition is: a crystalline acid present in unripe apples and other fruits. The malic acid formula is C₄H₆O₅.

As you can see, malic acid structure is composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.

Is malic acid sour?

Yes, it’s a tart-tasting organic acid, which is the reason why many natural foods have a sour or tart flavor. It’s also added to foods (like candy) to make them sour.

The human body also creates this acid.

What does malic acid do for the body?

It plays an important role in the Krebs cycle, which is an energy-producing sequence of reactions key to life.

What is malic acid used for?

There are many malic acid uses in both the food and cosmetic industry. In addition to its key role in the body, it’s also added to foods to make them tart and in cosmetics to adjust their acidity.

What is the most common acid added to food?

It’s probably citric acid, but malic is used a lot as well. If you compare malic acid vs. citric acid, there are a lot of similarities, but malic acid pH is a bit more acidic than citric acid pH.

Like malic, citric acid is also naturally found in vegetables and fruits, especially citrus fruits. It’s also produced in living organisms during the Krebs cycle (which is also called the citric acid cycle).

Both malic and citric acid add tart flavor and act as preservatives.

Now, let’s take a look at potential malic acid benefits.

Related: Tartaric Acid Benefits for Skin (Plus How to Use It)


1. General Energy Enhancer

As mentioned earlier, malic acid is produced by the human body, and it’s a key player in the Krebs cycle. This cycle includes the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fatty acids to create adenosine triphosphate, more commonly known as simply ATP.

This complex complex organic chemical provides cellular energy for all living organisms on earth.

2. Helps Treat Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

The combination of magnesium and malic acid is considered an alternative therapy for fibromyalgia, but more research is needed. Some research has pointed toward noticeable improvement in fibromyalgia symptoms after supplementing with magnesium malate.

Magnesium malate is also sometimes used for chronic fatigue syndrome.

What is malate? It’s a form of malic acid.

The main symptom of chronic fatigue syndrome or CFS is extreme fatigue. Fibromyalgia is another condition with fatigue as a main symptom.

Since malic acid plays an integral part in the energy-generating Krebs cycle that takes place in the human body, it makes some sense why some people choose to supplement with it for these conditions. However, there hasn’t been a great deal of research to date to support the use of malic acid supplements for these conditions.

3. Promotes Better Exercise Performance

As a supplement, malic acid is taken to boost athletic performance and discourage post-exercise muscle fatigue. Sometimes it’s taken in conjunction with creatine, a very popular supplement for people looking to increase lean muscle mass.

A study published in Acta Physiologica Hungarica in 2015 looked at the effects of a creatine malate supplement in long-distance runners as well as sprinters. Following six weeks of supplementation along with physical training, the researchers observed a significant increase in growth hormone in the sprinter group, and both the sprinters and long-distance runners experienced a physical performance boost.

For the long-distance runners, there was a significant increase in how much distance they covered.

4. Helps Common Skin Concerns (Like Wrinkles and Breakouts)

The use of this acid for skin care products is not uncommon. Due to its antioxidant and exfoliation benefits, it’s commonly used for a range of skin concerns, including fine lines and wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, acne, large pores, milia, warts, calluses, and more.

Sometimes it’s derived naturally, but it can also be synthetic or man-made too. It’s often combined with glycolic and lactic acids.

Malic acid is such an effective skin refiner because it encourages the shedding of the outer layer of skin cells. The shedding it promotes can have anti-aging effects since cell turnover slows as we age.

It’s also helpful for removing pore-clogging debris that can lead to acne.

5. Improves Oral Health

Some research demonstrates that this acid can improve symptoms of xerostomia (the fancy name for dry mouth) by stimulating saliva production in the mouth. Healthy saliva production also helps prevent the overgrowth of oral bacteria.

6. Boosts Iron Absorption

Everyone needs to get iron from the diet. Getting enough of this nutrient is especially important for pregnant women and people who struggle with anemia.

One study points out how vegetables rich in vitamin C as well as malic acid (like tomatoes and potatoes) are excellent choices if you’re looking to boost your iron absorption.

Risks, Side Effects and Interactions

Is malic acid bad for you?

Consuming malic acid in food is generally regarded as safe and doesn’t cause any unwanted malic acid side effects.

On the other hand, consuming it as an additive, supplement or in any synthetic form may cause side effects. For example, excessive consumption of malic acid candy (typically sour candies) is known to possibly cause irritation of the mouth, throat or stomach.

In general, if you consume too much of anything containing added malic acid, it may irritate your mouth.

Possible side effects of a malic acid supplement may include stomach upset, diarrhea, nausea, headaches or allergic reactions.

When applied to the skin, it may cause skin or eye irritation. Discontinue use of a product containing this acid if you experience any unwanted side effects.

Taking it as a supplement or medicine is not recommended for pregnant or nursing women. Since it may lower blood pressure, it’s also not recommended for anyone prone to low blood pressure.

Is malic acid good for gallstones?

There is currently no research to support taking it for gallstones. However, eating fiber-rich whole foods like fruits and vegetables that contain this acid is associated with a decreased risk of gallstones.

See your health care provider if you have symptoms of gallstones.

Does malic acid raise blood sugar?

While consuming too many fruits containing this acid can certainly raise blood sugar, this organic acid is not known for causing increased glucose levels. In fact, a recent scientific trial theorized that the malic and citric acids found in pomegranates are major reasons why this fruit can lower blood glucose responses both chronically and acutely.

Does malic acid help weight loss?

Some sources say it can help improve fat break down, but the benefit of weight loss is unclear at this time so talk to your doctor before using it for this purpose.

In general, check with your health care provider before supplementing with this acid, especially if you are being treated for a medical condition or are currently taking medication. Keep supplements out of the reach of children.

Food Sources

You’re probably wondering what foods contain this organic substance.

Do lemons have malic acid?

Yes, lemons and citrus fruit contain it. Let’s look at a longer list of foods that contain this acid.

Malic acid foods include:

  • Many fruits, with apples the richest source. Other fruits include cherries, grapes, blackberries, lychee, mango, nectarines, strawberries, oranges and lemons.
  • Vegetables, such as tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, peas, potatoes, tomatoes and rhubarb.
  • Wine and ciders (made from apples)

This acid is also commonly added to beverages, including like powdered iced tea and fruit-flavored drinks. It can also be found in fruit preserves, chewing gum, hard and soft candies, as well as some baked goods.

The list continues with personal care products like toothpaste, mouth washes, cough syrups and throat lozenges.

What to Look for in Malic Acid Products

If you’re considering a supplemental version of this acid, look for L-malic acid rather than DL-malic acid.

What’s the difference between L-malic acid and DL-malic acid?

L-malic acid is the naturally occurring form, whereas a mixture of L- and D-malic acid is produced synthetically.

An example of a malic acid supplement is malic acid powder, which can be added to water or another beverage. Another is magnesium malate, which is a supplement that combines this acid with magnesium.

Some research suggests that this malic acid magnesium combination may help people suffering with fibromyalgia.

Is malic acid vegan-friendly?

Yes, it’s not derived from animal sources.

Supplement Dosage and Preparation

If you’re wondering where to buy malic acid supplements, you can find them in health stores and online.

There is currently no standard malic acid dosage for any health concern. Check with your health care provider before taking it as a supplement.

One dose that has been studied is for dry mouth. A mouth spray containing 1 percent malic acid (as well as 10 percent xylitol and 0.05 percent fluoride) can be used as needed daily for two weeks.

Is malic acid soluble in water?

Yes, it is, and it’s important to combine the powdered supplement form with a liquid like water because pure malic acid as a dry powder can irritate the skin or damage the eyes if there is contact. Breathing in the powder can also negatively affect breathing.

Final Thoughts

  • Malic acid taste is sour or tart. The highest natural source is apples, but it’s also found in numerous fruits and vegetables as well as wines and ciders.
  • This acid is added to food as both a flavoring and preservative, as well as to cosmetic products as preservative and pH buffer.
  • What is the function of malic acid? In the human body, it’s created during the Krebs cycle, which is an energy-generating process that is vital to humans and all living organisms.
  • Benefits of malic acid may include healthy energy levels, better iron absorption, skin improvements and better oral health. You can look for skin care products that contain this alpha hydroxy acid (AHA).
  • Some people take magnesium malate as a form of alternative therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, but research is ongoing as to whether or not this is helpful.
  • It is best to obtain this acid from a healthy diet, and it’s not hard to do that since so many healthy fruits and vegetables contain it.
  • Check with your health care provider before supplementing with it.

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