Amino acid supplements are made not just to help keep you fit but also to keep you young. Here’s how these supplements aid healthy aging.
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In this article:
- What Are Amino Acids?
- What Are the Basic Roles of These Essential Amino Acids in Your Body?
- Bodybuilders and Athletes Lose Muscle Mass as They Age
- The Amino Acids Benefits
- BCAA Lifestyle Choices
- What Is the Take-Home Message?
How Amino Acid Supplements Help Healthy Aging
What Are Amino Acids?
Before we go deeper into learning how the best amino acid supplements benefit healthy aging, let’s go back to the very basics. What exactly are amino acids?
They are the building blocks of protein and organic compounds with oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, and a variable side-chain group. You need about 20 different amino acids to develop and function properly.
Although your body needs 20 of them, your system only considers nine as essential, and these are the following:
Your body cannot produce these essential amino acids though, so you need to get them from your diet or plant-based foods. Poultry, eggs, and meat are great sources of amino acids, too, but you can always get them in supplements.
What Are the Basic Roles of These Essential Amino Acids in Your Body?
Now that you know what amino acids are, it’s also important for you to learn the various roles of the essential ones as they are significant in the studies mentioned later in this article.
Your body uses histidine to create histamine, a neurotransmitter important for your sleep-wake cycle, sexual function, digestion, and immune response. It’s also important for keeping your myelin sheath, a barrier surrounding your nerve cells.
Lysine plays an essential role in the absorption of calcium, enzyme and hormone production, and protein synthesis. It also contributes to your elastin and collagen production, immune function, and energy production.
Isoleucine is a branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) which deals with muscle metabolism and tissue. It’s also essential for energy regulation, hemoglobin production, and immune function.
Leucine is also another BCAA important for muscle recovery and repair and protein synthesis. It aids in producing the growth hormone, stimulating wound healing, and regulating blood sugar levels, too.
Methionine is essential for your body’s detoxification and metabolism. It’s also important for the absorption of selenium and zinc and tissue growth.
Tryptophan is crucial to keep the balance of nitrogen in the body and is a precursor to your mood, sleep, and serotonin, a neurotransmitter regulating your appetite.
Threonine is a primary part of elastin and collagen, structural proteins, important for your connective tissue and skin. It also contributes to strengthening your immune function and fat metabolism.
Valine is a BCAA which helps stimulate muscle regeneration and growth. Your body needs this to produce energy as well.
Phenylalanine is a precursor of various neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine, epinephrine, dopamine, and tyrosine. It also plays a major role in amino acid production and enzyme and protein function.
Bodybuilders and Athletes Lose Muscle Mass as They Age
What do young bodybuilders and athletes have in common with the over 50-year-old crowd? It’s more than you might think, according to research linking the consumption of high-protein foods with healthy muscles, regardless of strength or age.
Both groups are concerned about strength and athletic performance. But, the latter group is wrestling with an unfortunate fact of life: muscle mass declines at an alarming rate of 1-2%each year, starting as early as age 50.
Muscle wasting or loss associated with aging (sarcopenia) is a widespread syndrome with an accompanying increase in illness and death.
Chronic muscle breakdown or loss targets an estimated 30% of people over the age of 60 and more than half of the octogenarian population. Progressive sarcopenia leads to frailty, and with that comes a greater likelihood of falling and an inability to do routine daily tasks.
That’s the bad news.
The Amino Acids Benefits
1. Protein and Amino Acid Supplements Promote Muscle Mass
There is plenty of good news out there, too. A growing body of evidence now supports the protein’s ability to build muscle and maintain lean muscle mass.
This is important because if we can maintain lean muscle mass as we age, our coordination/balance is better, as is our ability to move and get up from stationary positions. A number of reports also support the use of dietary supplementation with balanced amino acid formulas containing BCAAs to prevent disability and prolong the healthy life expectancy of elderly subjects.
So, if boomers and seniors can boost their dietary protein intake and add some weight-bearing exercise, chances are better for a long, independent life.
2. Act as a Protein Primer
Protein is made up of amino acids. One type of essential amino acids, called BCAAs, increases the rate of protein synthesis and decreases the rate of protein degradation in muscle tissue.
Branched-chain amino acids and in particular, the BCAA leucine interact with the “the mammalian target of rapamycin” (mTOR), which is a signaling pathway in the cells and serves as a central regulator of cell metabolism, growth, proliferation, and survival.
For decades, dietary amino acid supplements have been proposed for various health conditions. Also, a trend in sports nutrition has been to supplement with BCAAs.
Based on the recent progress in our understanding of how BCAAs work, and on accumulating experimental results, the concept that dietary BCAA supplementation may have health effects is now experiencing a major revival.
3. Have the Potential to Increase Lifespan According to BCAA Supplementation Studies
A research group in Italy recently demonstrated that long-term dietary supplementation with a specific BCAA-enriched amino acid mixture increased the average lifespan of male mice. This was accompanied by increased mitochondrial biogenesis and sirtuin 1 (SIRT1) expression and by up-regulated reactive oxygen species (free radicals) defense system, with reduced oxidative damage, both in heart and skeletal muscles of middle-aged mice.
The relevance of boosting mitochondrial function to preserve mammalian health and longevity has been recently shown by Safdar et al. Like resistance exercise, which is another way to boost mitochondrial function, BCAA supplementation does not affect maximum lifespan but increases the median lifespan, an indicator that specific diseases have been prevented.
Yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) has also served as a good organism in which to investigate the role of amino acids in aging. It has been found that low levels of essential amino acids reduce chronological lifespan in yeast.
Further, a chronological lifespan has been recently studied in yeast grown in media with different amino acid supplements. Increased availability of the BCAA’s leucine, isoleucine, and valine extended chronological lifespan.
The fact that leucine, isoleucine, and valine were most important for chronological lifespan points to a special status for the BCAAs during aging.
4. Provide Muscle-Building Benefits
One of the amino acids benefits is providing your body with a muscle-building advantage.
A promising area of preclinical research is evaluating the effects of BCAAs on skeletal muscle atrophy. Results indicate that BCAA intake may preserve muscle fiber size and improve physical endurance and motor coordination in middle-aged mice.
Furthermore, an amino acid mixture enriched with BCAA was found to improve sarcopenia, that is, the aging-associated loss of muscle strength and mass, in rats.
A variety of amino acid mixtures have also been used to restore the protein content of defective tissues, especially of skeletal muscles, in aged human subjects. A three-month intake of essential amino acid supplements increased lean body mass in aged women, without affecting kidney function.
The acute anabolic response (increased muscle protein synthesis rate) to this supplementation was maintained over time, suggesting the possibility to improve skeletal muscle growth with long-term treatment.
Various BCAA dietary pre-workout supplements have been reported to reduce sarcopenia in elderly subjects. In a randomized clinical trial involving 41 subjects with sarcopenia aged 66 to 84 years, intake of a BCAA-enriched formula increased muscle mass and improved insulin sensitivity.
As a result, leucine-enriched balanced amino acid supplements are now considered as part of the nutritional recommendations for the management of sarcopenia.
5. Can Help Reduce Obesity Implications
BCAAs also appear to have an impact on obesity. BCAAs and, in particular, leucine, increase fat leptin secretion, decrease food intake and body weight (via mTOR signaling), and improve muscle glucose uptake and whole body glucose metabolism.
Research suggests that specific mixtures of amino acids, rather than a single amino acid supplement such as leucine, may be more efficacious in lowering the blood glucose response to a glucose challenge.
Studies in wrestlers and obese subjects have shown that BCAA supplementation exerts beneficial effects on body weight and body fat. Most recently, the population-based International Study of Macro-/Micronutrients and Blood Pressure (INTERMAP) provided a unique opportunity to evaluate the effects of dietary BCAAs across different cultures.
This high-quality study demonstrated that a higher BCAA intake is associated with a lower prevalence of being overweight or obese in middle-aged individuals from East Asian and Western countries.
6. Give Heart Health Benefits
Taking amino acid supplements may also inhibit inflammatory markers in chronic heart failure patients and may represent a promising therapeutic approach, particularly in the presence of the so-called wasting syndrome. Accordingly, supplementation with a BCAA-enriched formula may improve exercise capacities in elderly subjects affected by chronic heart failure and may improve exercise capacities of aged individuals without heart failure.
BCAA Lifestyle Choices
Geriatricians have long recognized that disability, frailty, and age-related disease onset are critical issues that need to be addressed in older populations. A number of preclinical and clinical reports support the use of dietary supplementation with balanced amino acid formulas containing BCAAs to prevent disability and prolong the healthy life expectancy of elderly subjects.
What Is the Take-Home Message?
Maintaining strength and muscle mass is especially important as we age. Exercise or resistance training and consuming sufficient high-quality protein are two proven ways to stay strong and independent.
If you are worried about your protein consumption, you might consider amino acid supplements. Amino acids and, in particular, BCCAs are one type of supplement which have gained popularity in sports nutrition and look promising for older individuals.
Consider consulting with a trusted healthcare professional to see if BCAA supplementation in capsules or tablets may be a good choice for your aging body.
Are you taking amino acid supplements? What health benefits did you experience? Tell us in the comments section below!
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The Juvenon Health Journal will continue to feature research that will help you stay informed and healthy. By offering effective, all-natural supplements and health news you can use, Juvenon provides an essential toolkit to battle aging enemies.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on October 13, 2013, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.