Malic acid — or in its ionized form, malate — is an organic compound that occurs naturally in a variety of fruits and vegetables. It can also be synthesized in the body as part of aerobic and anaerobic energy cycles.
Here's a list of things malic acid is used for as well as malic acid side effects, warnings and more.
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Malic Acid Benefits
Malic Acid for Weight Loss
There's no evidence that malic acid can aid in weight loss.
1. Dry Mouth
Some research shows malic acid can help alleviate dry mouth. A spray containing 1 percent malic acid improved dry mouth and increased saliva flow in people who had antidepressant-induced dry mouth after two weeks of use, per a November 2012 Depression & Anxiety study.
2. Kidney Stones
Supplementing with malic acid may help treat calcium renal stone disease by increasing urine pH and citrate levels, according to a January 2014 Journal of Endourology paper.
3. Skin Benefits
Malic acid is also an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA), which has exfoliating properties when applied to the skin. It seems to help with melasma, a pigmentation disorder that causes dark patches on the skin, including the face, per a January 2013 study in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology.
If you're using malic acid on the skin, make sure to use sunscreen along with it. Because malic acid is an acid, it can make your skin more sensitive to the sun.
4. Malic Acid for Fibromyalgia
Malic acid on its own hasn't been the object of much scientific interest. But, because malic acid is a natural product of your body's energy cycles, it sometimes crops up as part of compounds being evaluated as treatments for fibromyalgia and improving sports performance.
The evidence of malic acid's efficacy on all fronts is, at best, uncertain. Of particular note, one meta-analysis in the May 2019 issue of Medwave concluded that a combination of magnesium and malic acid made little or no difference in the pain and depressive symptoms of people with fibromyalgia.
But, in a Huntington College of Health Sciences summary of research, people with fibromyalgia did show rapid improvement in pain levels after 48 hours of supplementation with 1,200 to 2,400 milligrams of malic acid plus magnesium and then lost that improvement after they stopped taking the malic acid.
What's more, an older May 1995 pilot study in the Journal of Rheumatology found that supplementing with 200 milligrams of malic acid and 50 milligrams of magnesium daily for six months decreased the symptoms of pain and tenderness in people with fibromyalgia.
If you're taking malic acid for a medical condition such as fibromyalgia, always talk to your doctor first. In the absence of clear guidelines for dosage, a doctor is your first line of defense in identifying possible contraindications and drug interactions for this and any other supplements.
5. Malic Acid for Energy
Malic acid is often combined with citrulline as an athletic supplement — on the theory that because malate is an intermediate product of your body's energy cycles, increasing its levels may also improve your energy or sports performance, per the National Institutes of Health.
But, despite malic acid's use for this purpose, there is no conclusive proof that it's effective. Of particular note, a small study of nine people in the October 2017 issue of Nutrients showed that taking citrulline malate — a mix of malic acid and citrulline — did not improve muscle recovery after resistance exercise.
There are a number of caveats to consider in that study, not least the very small sample size and the fact that the subjects weren't accustomed to exercise; it's possible that people who are more adapted to exercise might show different responses.
Ultimately, more research is definitely needed to prove or disprove any of malic acid's purported benefits.
The dosages used in studies and supplements of malic acid range from 200 milligrams to 2,800 milligrams per day. Malic acid is often paired with magnesium because more pronounced improvements in fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome are seen with this combination.
There is no known toxic level of malic acid, but it can result in loose stools for certain individuals at higher dosages.
Malic Acid Side Effects, Warnings and More
Many people wonder if malic acid is bad for you. You'll find it naturally present in many fruits and vegetables you eat, including apples, apricots, mangoes, strawberries, pineapples, grapes, lettuce, onions, celery, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and more, and it's not likely that you'll eat too much malic acid.
Because malic acid is a naturally occurring compound in common foods, it's generally considered safe — but in some cases, it can cause side effects, particularly for the stomach and digestive tract.
Acids can irritate the mouth, throat or stomach, especially in people who are more sensitive. You may need to avoid foods and beverages that have malic acid for a few days if you have diarrhea or an upset stomach because acids in foods may cause cramps and gas and prolong diarrhea, according to Virginia Tech.
If you're diagnosed with a gastrointestinal condition, such as IBS, gastritis or acid reflux, foods and beverages with malic acid may be off the menu. Eating foods with acid can cause the stomach to produce more gastric acid, which can then irritate damage that already exists in the digestive tract, according to Hopkins Medicine.
Other possible side effects of malic acid, per a November 2000 International Journal of Toxicology safety report, include:
- skin irritation
- loose stools or diarrhea
- Medwave: "Magnesium and Malic Acid Supplement for Fibromyalgia"
- Huntington College of Health Sciences: "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia"
- Nutrients: "Citrulline Malate Does Not Improve Muscle Recovery After Resistance Exercise in Untrained Young Adult Men"
- National Institutes of Health: "Dietary Supplements for Exercise and Athletic Performance"
- Journal of Rheumatology: "Treatment of fibromyalgia syndrome with Super Malic: a randomized, double blind, placebo controlled, crossover pilot study"
- Journal of Drugs in Dermatology: "Successful short-term and long-term treatment of melasma and postinflammatory hyperpigmentation using vitamin C with a full-face iontophoresis mask and a mandelic/malic acid skin care regimen"
- International Journal of Toxicology: "Final Report on the Safety Assessment of Malic Acid and Sodium Malate"
- Hopkins Medicine: GERD Diet: Foods That Help with Acid Reflux (Heartburn)