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BCAA stands for branch chain amino acids. BCAA consists of the amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine. The reason these three amino acids are called BCAA is because they branch off from the other five essential amino acids, (there are a total of eight), to create their own chain.
Amino acids are responsible for the formation of proteins in the body. These proteins are responsible for the formation of muscle tissue as well as increasing the production of metabolism from fat. Proper nutrition , through diet and/or supplements , must include protein.
While each of the amino acids that form the BCAA chain can be taken as an individuals supplement, they do their best work for your body while being taken together. In fact, unless you have a specific deficiency of one of these amino acids, then you shouldn’t take them individually. This is because it can throw off your body’s BCAA balance and create serious side effects in the process.
BCAA accounts for to up to 25% of your body’s total protein intake and should produce no less than 15% of that protein. BCAA is very important to the growth of your skeletal muscle and contributes 1/4 of the necessary protein needed for muscle development.
Most people get all the BCAA that they need from the foods that they eat. BCAA can be found in the highest levels in dairy products but can also be found in meat and in legumes.
BCAA has not been extensively studied in any field. However, there are currently several studies being conducted in the US to discover BCAA's effectiveness in cancer patients, for surgical patients, patients with advanced liver disease, mania, tardive dyskinesia and more.
In fact, BCAA is already prescribed to patients with advanced liver disease and tardive dyskinesia because preliminary results from studies show that BCAA prevents mania from occurring in these patients. So far there have been no adverse affects reported in patents using BCAA for these conditions.
The primary function of BCAA, however, is to help the muscles heal faster after a workout, to prevent damage from occurring to the muscles during a workout and to decrease the rate of protein loss in inactive human muscle.
In the weight lifting and athletic community, these are important elements to any supplement. However, many weight lifters take BCAA in an effort to increase the efficacy of their workout. There are no clinical studies to show the benefits of using BCAA as a method of increasing the potency of a workout.
However, there have been several very small studies (small meaning less than 8 people involved in a 2-week trial) that resulted in the people taking BCAA having an increase in their peak muscle mass. In addition, there appeared to be a reduction in muscle damage during strenuous exercise.
You need to use this information with caution as the studies were privately done and weren’t conducted by doctors. Control groups were too small to conclusively provide results.
In Italy, small studies were conducted to determine the benefits of BCAA on cancer patients that required surgery. After surgery was completed, a control group of patients were given BCAA to see if muscle integrity could be maintained during recovery. The results were positive enough that many Italian doctors use BCAA for all their cancer patients that require surgery.
In the US, studies are currently being conducted in the field of all surgeries, rather than being cancer specific. The hope is that patients that require a long stay in bed after serious surgery will have an easier and faster recovery time if they take BCAA.
Already BCAA is used in the US for patients that are in bed for an extended period of time, typically due to coma. The BCAA, which is giving via IV, slows down the muscle degradation in these patients.
For a time BCAA was being used to treat people with ALS after Phase I studies showed promising results. However, in Phase II trials, ALS patients using BCAA suffered lung failure from long-term use and many died.
As mentioned above, BCAA is comprised of leucine, isoleucine and valine. While these work best together, they each have their own benefit that they contribute to the whole group.
Leucine is an energy producer that aids in the repair of muscle and even helps to normalize blood sugar. Leucine also augments the manufacturing of growth hormones. It also helps to burn body fat faster, specifically abdominal fat.
Too much leucine in the body can lead to diarrhea, can disrupt liver and kidney function and may even cause dementia. Not enough leucine can cause headaches, confusion, tiredness, depression, and more.
Isoleucine offers all of the same benefits as leucine. In addition, isoleucine helps to produce energy and is essential in the development of hemoglobin. Isoleucine provides clotting assistance for open wounds. Isoleucine has the same symptoms as leucine when there is a deficiency. There are no noted side effects when using isoleucine.
Valine has several functions, one of which is to provide energy to the body. It does this by providing the muscles with the necessary glucose to stimulate energy production. This process usually occurs when the body is undergoing strenuous activity.
In addition, valine helps regulate blood sugar throughout the body. This is how it can provide the muscles with the glucose it needs when they need it! Valine is necessary for a healthy mind (mental health). It also removes surplus nitrogen from the liver and distributes it to the parts of the body that need it the most.
A shortage of valine may cause degenerative neurological conditions. Too much valine may cause similar symptoms to those suffering from drug withdrawal such as hallucinations and skin crawling sensation.
Together, these three amino acids provide a necessary component for the development and safety of the muscles in your body. If you work out daily in an effort to build muscle mass, it is very possible that taking a BCAA supplement will be helpful in maintaining the health of your muscles.
Alone, each of these amino acids, when taken in high doses, can cause some nasty side effects. When taken together, however, you are keeping a balance of each amino acid in your system, which means many of the side effects are negated.
The most common side effects occurred in people who have the diseases ketoaciduria and alcoholism. If you have ketoaciduria, taking BCAA can result in severe retardation, both physically and mentally. If you are an alcoholic, then BCAA may cause more liver damage.
BCAA cannot be taken with levodopa because BCAA actually reduces the effectiveness of this drug. In addition, if you are taking a combination drug that has levodopa in it, avoid taking BCAA.
BCAA may cause the pancreas to release insulin, which means if you are a diabetic, you should never take BCAA unless it is recommended by your doctor.
You should never take BCAA if you are pregnant or nursing a baby. BCAA has an adverse reaction on infants causing liver damage as well as releasing insulin from the pancreas, which can lead to low blood sugar in your infant. While there seems to be no adverse reaction to the mother, the baby gets what you get while it is in the womb and if you are nursing.
Talk to your doctor and decide if BCAA can help meet your nutritional needs. If you already have the OK, the use the free and handy supplement finder now!