Branched-Chain Amino Acids
Also indexed as: BCAAs, Isoleucine, Leucine, Valine
The branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. BCAAs are considered essential amino acids because human beings cannot survive unless these amino acids are present in the diet.
Dairy products and red meat contain the greatest amounts of BCAAs, although they are present in all protein-containing foods. Whey protein and egg protein supplements are other sources of BCAAs. BCAA supplements provide the amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
BCAAs have been used in connection with the following conditions (refer to the individual health concern for complete information):
|Science Ratings||Health Concerns|
Kidney failure (intravenous BCAAs)
Athletic performance (for high altitude and extreme temperature only)
and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit.
Only a person deficient in protein would become deficient in BCAAs, because most foods that are sources of protein supply BCAAs. Few people in Western societies are protein deficient.
Most diets provide an adequate amount of BCAAs for most people, which is about 25–65 mg per 2.2 pounds of body weight.1 2 Athletes involved in intense training often take 5 grams of leucine, 4 grams of valine, and 2 grams of isoleucine per day to prevent muscle loss and increase muscle gain, though most research does not support this use of BCAAs.
Side effects have not been reported with the use of BCAAs. Until more research is conducted, people with ALS should avoid taking supplemental BCAAs. In one study, supplementation with a large amount of BCAAs (60 grams) caused alterations in the blood levels of tryptophan, phenylalanine, and tyrosine.3 The changes in the blood levels of these amino acids could, in theory, cause depression in susceptible individuals. Until more is known, individuals with a history of depression should consult a doctor before supplementing with BCAAs. People with kidney or liver disease should not consume high amounts of amino acids without consulting their doctor.
At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions with branched-chain amino acids.
1. Zello GA, Wykes LF, Ball RO, et al. Recent advances in methods of assessing dietary amino acid requirements for adult humans. J Nutr 1995;125:2907–15.
2. Young VR, Bier DM, Pellett PL. A theoretical basis for increasing current estimates of the amino acid requirements in adult man, with experimental support. Am J Clin Nutr 1989;50:80–92.
3. Scarna A, Gijsman HJ, Harmer CJ, et al. Effect of branch chain amino acids supplemented with tryptophan on tyrosine availability and plasma prolactin. Psychopharmacology 2002;159:222–3.
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The information presented in Healthnotes is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires September 2008.