Branched Amino Acids: What are they? How do they work? Uses, Efficacy, Side Effects, Interactions and Dosage

They are usually found in legumes, dairy, and meat. These include valine, isoleucine, and leucine.

Branched-chain amino acids are  essential nutrients  that the body gets from proteins found in food.

These amino acids are referred to as ” branched chain ” or “branched amino acids” because of their chemical structure. People use branched chain amino acids as medicine.

Branched-chain amino acids are used to treat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), brain conditions due to liver disease (chronic or latent hepatic encephalopathy), a movement disorder called tardive dyskinesia, a genetic disease called McArdle’s disease.

They are also used to treat a condition called spinocerebellar degeneration and poor appetite in older people with  kidney failure  and cancer patients.

Branched chain amino acids are also used to help decrease muscle wasting in people who are confined to bed.

Some people, to increase their ability to concentrate and prevent fatigue or tiredness, take branched-chain amino acids.

Athletes use branched chain amino acids to improve exercise performance and reduce protein and muscle breakdown during intense exercise.

These are administered intravenously by healthcare providers, branched-chain amino acids for when the body has suffered from a serious injury or a widespread infection.

It is also given intravenously to treat sudden brain swelling, caused by acute hepatic encephalopathy.

How does it work?

These branched chain amino acids minimize breakdown in muscles and contribute to muscle protein production.

Branched chain amino acids may prevent faulty message transmission in brain cells of patients with mania, tardive dyskinesia, anorexia, and advanced liver disease.

Applications

Anorexia

Taking branched-chain amino acids by mouth appears to reduce anorexia and improve overall nutrition in older and malnourished people.

There is also early evidence that taking branched-chain amino acids by mouth might be helpful for people with anorexia that is associated with cancer or liver disease.

Poor brain function related to liver disease

Although there are some conflicting results, most research suggests that taking branched-chain amino acids by mouth can improve liver and brain function in people with poor brain function caused by liver disease.

Mania

Drinking a drink that contains the branched-chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine appears to reduce the symptoms of mania.

Muscle breakdown

Taking branched-chain amino acids by mouth appears to reduce muscle breakdown during exercise.

Movement disorder called tardive dyskinesia

Taking branched-chain amino acids by mouth appears to reduce symptoms of a muscle disorder called tardive dyskinesia.

Effectiveness

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease)

Early studies showed promising results, but more recent studies show no benefit from branched chain amino acids in people with ALS.

In fact, taking branched-chain amino acids could worsen lung function and increase the risk of death in people with this condition.

Liver disease caused by alcohol

Early research suggests that taking branched-chain amino acids daily along with a controlled diet does not reduce the risk of death in people with liver disease caused by alcohol consumption.

Athletic performance

There is inconsistent evidence on the effectiveness of branched chain amino acids for athletic performance.

Many studies suggest that taking branched chain amino acids does not improve an athlete’s exercise or sports performance. However, other research suggests that it may reduce fatigue and muscle pain associated with exercise.

Diabetes

Early research suggests that eating carbohydrates with an amino acid / protein mix might improve insulin response in people with diabetes. However, it is not known whether taking branched chain amino acids as a supplement will provide the same benefits.

Liver cancer

Research suggests that drinking a beverage containing branched-chain amino acids daily for one year does not improve survival after surgical removal of liver cancer.

Hepatic cirrhosis

It is not clear whether branched chain amino acids benefit people with cirrhosis of the liver, the end-stage of long-term liver disease. Early research suggests that branched chain amino acids provide no benefit.

However, there is some research to suggest that branched chain amino acids might improve the quality of life in people with cirrhosis of the liver.

Genetic disorder that increases phenylalanine in the blood (phenylketonuria)

Taking branched-chain amino acids for up to 6 months appears to improve attention in children with phenylketonuria.

Spinocerebellar degeneration disease of the spine (SCD)

There are conflicting results on the effects of branched chain amino acids in people with a spinal disease called SCD.

Some preliminary research suggests that taking branched-chain amino acids by mouth might improve some SCD symptoms.

However, other research suggests that branched chain amino acids do not improve muscle control in people with SCD.

It is also not known how effective it is:

  • Preventing fatigue
  • Improving concentration.
  • Prevention of muscle wasting in people confined to bed.
  • Treating other conditions.

More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of branched chain amino acids for these uses.

Side effects and safety

Branched Chain Amino Acids are Possibly Safe when injected intravenously by a healthcare professional.

Branched chain amino acids are possibly safe when ingested properly. Patients are known to have some side effects, such as loss of coordination and fatigue.

Branched-chain amino acids should be used with caution before or during activities where performance depends on motor coordination, such as driving.

Special precautions and warnings

Pregnancy and breastfeeding

There is not enough reliable information on the safety of taking branched chain amino acids if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Stay safe and avoid use.

Kids

These amino acids are possibly safe for children when consumed short-term and orally. Branched-chain amino acids have been used safely in children over a 6-month period.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease)

The use of branched-chain amino acids when used in ALS patients has been linked to lung failure and higher mortality rates. If you have ALS, don’t use branched-chain amino acids until more is known.

Branched-chain ketoaciduria

Increasing the consumption of branched chain amino acids could lead to severe mental and physical retardation and seizures. Do not use branched chain amino acids if you have this condition.

Chronic alcoholism

Dietary use of branched-chain amino acids in alcoholics has been associated with liver disease leading to brain damage (hepatic encephalopathy).

Low blood sugar in babies

Taking one of the branched-chain amino acids, leucine, has been reported to lower blood sugar in babies with a condition called idiopathic hypoglycemia.

This term means that they have low blood sugar, but the cause is unknown.

Surgery

There could be an interference with blood sugar control during and after surgery if branched chain amino acids are consumed as these can affect blood sugar levels.

Stop using branched chain amino acids at least 2 weeks before scheduled surgery.

Interactions

Moderate interaction

Be careful with the following combinations:
Levodopa interacts with branched chain amino acids

Branched-chain amino acids can decrease the amount of levodopa that the body absorbs.

By decreasing the amount of levodopa that the body absorbs, branched-chain amino acids can decrease the effectiveness of levodopa. Do not take branched chain amino acids and levodopa at the same time.

Medications for diabetes (antidiabetic medications) interact with branched-chain amino acids

Branched chain amino acids can lower blood sugar. Medications for diabetes are also used to lower blood sugar.

Taking branched chain amino acids along with diabetes medications can make your blood sugar drop too low.

Monitor your blood sugar closely. The dose of your diabetes medicine may need to be changed.

Some medications used for diabetes include  : glimepiride (Amaryl), glyburide (DiaBeta, Glynase PresTab, Micronase), insulin, pioglitazone (Actos), rosiglitazone (Avandia), chlorpropamide (Diabinese), glipizide (Glucotrol), tolbutamide (Orinase), and others.

Minor interaction

Be on the lookout for the following combinations
Diazoxide (Hyperstat, Proglycem) interacts with branched chain amino acids.

Branched chain amino acids are used to help make protein in the body. Taking diazoxide along with branched chain amino acids might decrease the effects of branched chain amino acids on proteins. More information is needed on this interaction.

Medications for inflammation (corticosteroids) interact with branched-chain amino acids.

Branched chain amino acids are used to help make protein in the body.

Taking medications called glucocorticoids along with branched-chain amino acids might decrease the effects of branched-chain amino acids on protein. More information is needed on this interaction.

Thyroid hormone interacts with branched chain amino acids

Branched-chain amino acids help the body make protein.

Some thyroid hormone medications can decrease the rate at which the body breaks down branched-chain amino acids. However, more information is needed to know the meaning of this interaction.

Dosage

The following doses have been studied in scientific research:

Orally:

  • For a brain condition due to liver disease (hepatic encephalopathy): 240 mg / kg / day up to 25 grams of branched-chain amino acids.
  • For mania: a 60 gram branched chain amino acid drink containing valine, isoleucine and leucine in a ratio of 3: 3: 4 every morning for 7 days.
  • For tardive dyskinesia: a branched-chain amino acid drink containing valine, isoleucine, and leucine at a dose of 222 mg / kg taken three times a day for 3 weeks.
  • For anorexia and improvement of general nutrition in elderly malnourished hemodialysis patients: branched-chain amino acid granules consisting of valine, leucine and isoleucine in a dose of 4 grams taken three times a day.

The estimated average requirement (EAR) for branched chain amino acids is 68 mg / kg / day (leucine 34 mg, isoleucine 15 mg, valine 19 mg) for adults.

However, some researchers think that previous test methods may have underestimated this requirement and that the requirement is actually around 144 mg / kg / day.

Intravenously:

Healthcare providers administer branched-chain amino acids intravenously for brain enlargement due to liver disease (hepatic encephalopathy).