What are the benefits of BCAAs?

Some of the benefits of BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) include assisting tissue growth and repair, and providing the body with nitrogen. BCAAs provide about 70% of nitrogen the body needs, which is used for tissue, hair, nails and other protein-based synthesis.

Leucine, isoleucine and valine, for example, are BCAAs that the human body needs for tissue synthesis and repair. “Branched chain” refers to the chemical structure of these amino acids. Muscles metabolize BCAAs, rather than the liver, providing an efficient and immediate energy source for physical performance – another of the benefits of BCAAs.

A BCAAs deficiency only occurs if dietary protein is inadequate, but this is uncommon in developed nations.

Medical research continues to identify ways nutritional supplementation can provide you with the benefits of BCAAs, as well as preventing and treating health conditions such as cirrhosis, and enhancing cognitive function and exercise performance.

Cirrhosis is chronic liver disease caused by alcoholism, hepatitis C, genetic diseases, infection, autoimmune disorders or a bad reaction to medications, and damages the liver’s cells and decreases its function.

It can lead to a variety of nutritional metabolic disorders that can include protein malnutrition. The quality of life of patients with liver cirrhosis is poor, as they frequently experience fatigue and sleep disturbances.

In a randomized study, BCAAs supplements improved weakness and how easily participants became fatigued, and those with cirrhosis who took a late evening BCAAs snack for three months had improved sleep.

BCAAs and aging

In studies, BCAAs are involved in dopamine utilization and the processing of emotional information.

Cognitive decline impacts adults in varying degrees, but for most, the adult brain reduces in size by an average of 5-10% over a lifetime.

Often hard clusters of damaged or dying neurons form plaques and due to this and age-related inflammation, Alzheimer’s disease may develop.

Major depression is uncommon for older, healthy adults, but for those requiring home health care and hospitalization due to medical problems, the outlook for mental health is less positive. Depression occurs in as much as 13% of the unhealthy, aged population.

Research that tested behavioral responses and punishment-related cues for participants in an offshore sailing race showed taking a BCAAs supplement improved impulse control and short-term memory, and decreased fatigue.

As women and men age, exercise performance generally declines at a consistent rate leading toward a more sedentary lifestyle, with resultant illness, loss of strength, decreased muscle capacity, reduced muscle mass and inconsistent or poor habits.

Taking a BCAAs supplement could encourage exercise because it reduces muscle soreness and improved muscle mass by strongly promoting protein synthesis and recovery.

How can I add BCAAs to my diet?

Dietary sources for BCAAs include whey and milk proteins, soy, fish, chicken, beef, eggs, baked beans, brown rice, whole wheat, almonds, Brazil nuts, lima beans, lentils, chick peas, pumpkins seeds, cashew nuts and corn.

BCAAs supplements

A BCAAs supplement is available as a capsule, liquid, powder or whey protein powder.

How much should I take?

The recommended standard dose is 3-20 g per day. Most diets provide an adequate amount of BCAAs for most people, which is about 25-65 mg per 1 kg or 2.2 pounds of body weight.

Consuming at least 15 g of whey protein as part of a post-exercise recovery regimen and within 30 minutes of finishing your workout ensures an adequate level of BCAAs.

Side effects

Taking a BCAAs supplement can result in fatigue and loss of coordination, so be careful when driving, and it can also cause dehydration.

BCAAs appear to be safe for most people when they take them for up to 6 months.

Taking BCAAs between meals improves their effectiveness.

Contraindications

A BCAAs supplement may contraindicate with the following medications:

  • Levodopa
  • Diazoxide (Hyperstat, Proglycem)
  • Medications for inflammation (Corticosteroids)
  • Medications for diabetes such as glimepiride (Amaryl), Glynase PresTab, Micronase), chlorpropamide (Diabinese), insulin, pioglitazone (Actos), rosiglitazone (Avandia), glipizide (Glucotrol), glyburide (DiaBeta, tolbutamide (Orinase) and others.
  • Thyroid hormone

References

  1. Cheng, Maria. “Seattle Times.” Britain Could Face Cirrhosis Epidemic, Docs Warn.”
    Maria. 7 Aug 2007. http://seattletimes.com/html/nationworld/2003825370_webboozybrits07.html
  2. University of Michigan Health System. “Branched-Chain Amino Acids.”
    http://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/hn-2815001#hn-2815001-how-it-works
  3. Sowers, Starkie CN. Huntington College of Health Sciences: Smart Supplementation. “A Primer on Branched Chain Amino Acids.” 2009. http://www.hchs.edu/literature/BCAA.pdf
  4. Bongard, Vanina, et al. Age. “Effects of Age and Gender on Physical Performance.” 23 Jun 2007.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2267663/
  5. Shimomura, Yoshiharu, et al. American Society for Nutrition. “Nutraceutical Effects of Branched-Chain Amino Acids on Skeletal Muscle.” Feb 2006.
    http://jn.nutrition.org/content/136/2/529S.full
  6. Portier, H., et al. European Journal of Applied Physiology. “Effects of Branched-chain Amino Acids Supplementation on Physiological and Psychological Performance During an Offshore Sailing Race. November 2008. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18704484
  7. Kawaguchi, Takumi, et al. Hepatology. “Branched-chain Amino Acids as Pharmacological Nutrients in Chronic Liver Disease.” 23 Jun 2011.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21563202
  8. WebMD. “Branched-Chain Amino Acids.”
    http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-1005-BRANCHED-CHAIN%20AMINO%20ACIDS.aspx?activeIngredientId=1005&activeIngredientName=BRANCHED-CHAIN%20AMINO%20ACIDS

Last reviewed 03/Mar/2017

 

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