Health Benefits of Amino Acid Supplements
Amino acids are important to health because they are the building blocks that make up proteins. Proteins are substances involved in many critical processes and are structural components of every cell in the body. They are found in muscles, tendons, ligaments, nails, hair, body fluids, and many other organs. They are also found in the blood and are an important component of the immune system.
Most of the amino acids in the body (about 80%) are produced by the liver. These are called non-essential amino acids, not because they are not important, but because we do not need to obtain them from the diet. Other amino acids that the body needs come from the diet, and they are called essential amino acids because the body cannot manufacture them. They come from protein molecules, which are found in foods like meat, eggs, fish, dairy products, beans, nuts and other plants. Protein molecules from foods are broken down into amino acids before they can be used by the body.
A lack of essential amino acids can adversely affect health. These amino acids include histidine, isoleucine, lysine, leucine, methionine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, threonine, and valine. Health problems resulting from a lack of essential amino acids include indigestion, depression, and stunted growth. Conditions in which one may lack essential amino acids include consuming a vegan diet, dieting, trauma, surgery, infection, drug use, and impaired absorption.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet that includes a lot of protein sources can help ensure adequate protein intake, including essential amino acids. However, many people are not able to get enough nutrients to support their bodies’ needs. Some people also tend to lose more proteins than others, especially those who have liver disease, cancer, or other muscle-wasting conditions. Furthermore, there are some individuals, notably athletes, who need more proteins than others to help build bigger muscles and repair damaged muscles.
Amino acid supplements may provide single specific amino acids in tablets or pill form. Some are popularly sold over the counter, such as arginine, glutamine, lysine tryptophan, and tyrosine. They may also be sold in combination. Some of the health benefits associated with amino acids include:
- The branched chain amino acids or BCAA (leucine, isoleucine, valine) are popular among athletes because they help increase muscle mass, prevent muscle breakdown, and help in recovery after workouts. Aside from athletes, other people may also benefit from BCAAs, such as those who have a chronic loss of appetite, or those with certain brain disorders or muscle wasting conditions. More studies are investigating their role in supporting the therapy of diabetes and certain forms of autism.
- L-arginine, a non-essential amino acid, is believed to play a role in immune functions, wound healing, detoxification reactions, promoting insulin secretion, and improving sexual function.
- L-Glutamine serves as a fuel source for cells lining the intestines and is involved in several metabolic processes. It is believed to play a vital role in normal brain function, in protecting your body from ammonia toxicity, and for maintaining protein balance during severe stress.
- L-Lysine appears to be useful for treating genital herpes infections, as well as cold sores. It has also been found to help in collagen formation as well as building muscle and recovering from muscle injuries.
- The body needs L-Tyrosine to produce brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) such as epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine these substances regulate mood and a deficiency in L-tyrosine has been linked to depression. Tyrosine is therefore known as the ‘anti-depressant’ among the amino acids. It also aids in the manufacture of melanin, the skin pigment that also acts as an antioxidant.
- Leucine appears to help prevent muscle loss that is associated with aging. Researchers found that a leucine supplements can help restore youthful patterns of muscle-protein synthesis and breakdown in aging rats.
- Branched chain amino acids are found in whey proteins, which are easily digestible and absorbed by the body. They are popularly used by athletes to reduce fatigue, help increase workout intensity, and help promote fat loss.
Amino acid supplements are usually safe and well-tolerated when taken in prescribed doses. However, it is best to consult your doctor before taking these supplements, especially when you have a medical condition and you are taking some medications which can interact with your health supplements.
This information should not take the place of medical advice. We encourage you to talk to your health care providers (doctor, registered dietitian, pharmacist, etc.) about your interest in, questions about, or use of dietary supplements and what may be best for your overall health.
WebMD. Branched-Chain Amino Acids. http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/branched-chain-amino-acids-uses-risks
Nutritional Supplement Educational Centre. Amino Acid Benefits. http://www.nutritional-supplement-educational-centre.com/amino-acid-benefits.html
Nutritional Supplement Truths. Amino Acid Supplements. http://www.nutritional-supplement-truths.com/amino-acid-supplements.html
Bodybuilding. BCAAs: The Many Benefits Of Branched-Chain Amino Acid Supplements. http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/bcaas-the-many-benefits-of-amino-acids.html
Health Guidance. Amino Acid Supplements – Benefits and Side Effects. http://www.healthguidance.org/entry/16272/1/Amino-Acid-Supplements–Benefits-and-Side-Effects.html