Move Over Muscles: Surprising Amino Acid Benefits

Amino Acids benefit more than your muscles

Amino acids. Strands of these molecules form the building blocks of protein. When you digest protein, your body breaks it down into individual amino acids and then reconstitutes them as needed. And amino acids are needed for a variety of functions in the body, in part because your body needs protein to build cells as well as muscle.

Individual amino acids serve a variety of health-promoting roles in the body

For example, they can influence mood, reduce stress and boost immunity. As a consequence, shoppers should be mindful of what they hope to achieve by taking an amino acid. As supplements go, their quality is exceptional. “Amino acid supplements are highly specific in their effects,” says Tod Cooperman, MD, president of, which independently evaluates the quality of supplements. “Our analyses have generally found higher quality among amino acid supplements than among other types of supplements.”

As a general rule, take amino acid supplements on an empty stomach. The “L” before the names of most amino acids refers to their leftward molecular rotation. A “D” or “DL” in front of an amino acid generally indicates a synthetic form of the amino acid, many of which can actually be dangerous for human consumption.

1. Muscle maker.

By middle age, you rapidly lose muscle mass, even if you exercise. You can counter some of this loss by taking branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)—leucine, isoleucine and valine. Of these, leucine is by far the most important for making new muscle, and a recent analysis of nine studies confirmed its muscle-enhancing effect. Leucine works for seniors, too, who might actually benefit the most. Adding vitamin D and exercising amplifies the benefits.

Look for  a daily BCAA supplement containing approximately 2.5 grams of leucine, 1.25 grams of isoleucine and 1.25 grams of valine.  Another possible approach is to take 3–4 grams of leucine daily. Consult your healthcare provider to ensure that your medical condition and medications are not contraindicated with these amino acids.

2. Mood lifter.

Amino acid L-tryptophan and 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) form the key building block of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that protects against anxiety and depression. Supplements have been found helpful for these disorders, as well as with insomnia.

Those who already take antidepressants, MAOIs, or other mood medications that already work to increase serotonin should not supplement with products that form the same action because it is possible to develop a very serious condition known as serotonin syndrome.

Certain amino acids may help lighten mood

3. Stress buster.

The amino acid gamma- aminobutyric acid, or GABA, functions as a neurotransmitter that promotes a relaxed feeling while also increasing mental focus. It works by helping the brain tune out distracting “background noise.” A 2015 study by Dutch researchers found GABA supplements improve decision making and reaction times. Theanine, an amino acid found in high-quality green tea, boosts the brain’s alpha waves, which can reduce anxiety. GABA and theanine may be taken together.

Again, those who take mood medications, such as benzodiazepines and antidepressants, should not supplement with GABA or theanine without consulting their healthcare providers to avoid contraindications.

4. Immune strengthener.

The preferred form of the amino acid cysteine, N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is an essential building block of glutathione, the body’s principal antioxidant. An Italian study found that NAC supplements greatly reduced flu symptoms among seniors. Its side benefits include supporting the liver’s detox efforts and lung function.

Those on nitroglycerin should not take NAC, as taking both may increase the effects of the nitroglycerin.  NAC may be contraindicated for those having surgery or with certain bleeding disorders. Consult your healthcare provider to ensure your medications or medical condition is not contraindicated.

5. Blood-vessel toner.

L-arginine functions as the precursor to nitric oxide, a compound that regulates blood-vessel flexibility. Increased flexibility is good for the cardiovascular system, and some research indicates that this amino acid can lower blood pressure. Men also need healthy blood-vessel tone for erections, and arginine may help men with erectile dysfunction, as well.

Arginine is contraindicated with several medical conditions and many medications, including birth control pills, so consult your healthcare provider before taking an arginine supplement.  Remember that too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. Nitric oxide overload can have adverse effects on the body.

Amino acid supplements, such as branched-chain aminos, have long been used by bodybuilders to enhance muscle mass and to speed post-exercise recovery. But research indicates aminos also help seniors increase muscle and reduce the risk of sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss). They have plenty of other uses as well: improving mood, reducing stress and boosting immunity. Being aware of the interactions amino acids can have with your medications and medical conditions is important to ensure any supplementing you might do actually has the potential to help you rather than harm you.

Article copyright 2017 by Delicious Living and Jack Challem. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Betsy’s Note: This article is for education purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease. Make sure a supplement is not contraindicated with your medications, other supplements or medical condition. Consult your health care provider.