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Branched Chain Amino Acids

Branched Chain Amino Acids
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Branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) is the name given to three of the eight essential amino acids needed to make protein: leucine, isoleucine and valine. They are called branched-chain because their structure has a ‘branch’ off the main trunk of the molecule. The combination of these three essential amino acids makes up approximately one-third of skeletal muscle in the human body.

In order to get energy, the body can actually break down muscle to get these BCAAs. Therefore, by supplying them during or after a workout, muscles and other tissues are spared from breakdown, which occurs as a natural part of metabolism.

Leucine is the most readily oxidized BCAA and therefore the most effective at causing insulin secretion from the pancreas. It lowers elevated blood sugar levels and aids in growth hormone production. Leucine works in conjunction with the other two BCAAs to protect muscle and act as fuel for the body. They promote the healing of bones, skin and muscle tissue, and are often recommended for patients recovering from surgery. Note: Excessively high intake of leucine may contribute to pellagra, a disease due to niacin deficiency, and may increase the amount of ammonia in the body.

Food sources for leucine are: meat, nuts, beans, brown rice, soy flour and whole wheat.

Isoleucine stabilizes and regulates blood sugar and energy levels. It is also needed for hemoglobin formation. When coupled with the other two BCAAs, they enhance energy, increase endurance and aid in the healing and repair of muscle tissue, making them a valuable tool for athletes.

After a group of healthy people received a single intravenous infusion of these amino acids, the amount of tissue breakdown that normally occurs overnight decreased by 50 percent. In another study, the muscles of a group of marathoners and cross-country runners were spared completely with a daily dose of them.

People suffering from many different mental and physical disorders have been found to have isoleucine deficiency, which can lead to symptoms similar to those of hypoglycemia.

Isoleucine can be found in foods such as chicken, eggs, fish, meat, rye, almonds, cashews, chickpeas, lentils, soy protein and most seeds.

Valine is the third BCAA. It also aids in muscle metabolism, tissue repair and the maintenance of proper nitrogen balance in the body. It may also be helpful in treating liver and gallbladder disease, and is good for correcting the type of severe amino acid deficiencies which can be caused by drug addiction. However, an excessively high level of valine can lead to symptoms such as a crawling sensation in the skin and possibly cause hallucinations.

Sources for valine are: meat, mushrooms, peanuts, dairy products, grains, and soy protein.

BCAAs are a very popular supplementation for strength in athletes. It is recommended that supplemental isoleucine should always be taken with a correct balance of the other two branched-chain amino acids; approximately two milligrams each of leucine and valine for each milligram of isoleucine. Supplements that combine all three amino acids are available and can be more convenient to use.

BCAAs offer a rapid treatment response for tardive dyskinesia in men, according to the results of a trial published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. Tardive dyskinesia is a neurological disorder consisting of abnormal, involuntary body movements usually associated with long-term medications used to treat schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders.

BCAAs are also currently used clinically to aid in the recovery of burn victims, and because the metabolic breakdown is accelerated when an individual is afflicted with a wasting disease such as cancer, AIDS, or end-stage kidney failure, BCAA along with glutamine and medium-chain triglycerides are often used by progressive surgeons as intravenous support for their critically ill patients.

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