Branched-chain amino acids extend life span in animal model
Enzo Nisoli of Milan University and his colleagues report in the October, 2010 issue of the journal Cell Metabolism that branched-chain amino acids, which include leucine, isoleucine and valine, extended the average life span of mice when administered in their drinking water. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins in the body. In humans, eight essential amino acids, including the branched-chain amino acids, cannot be manufactured and must be obtained via the diet.
Previous research uncovered a survival benefit for branched-chain amino acids in single-celled yeast organisms. Dr Nisoli and his associates tested the effects of branched-chain amino acid supplementation on normal mice and in mice bred to lack endothelial nitric oxide synthase, an enzyme that is involved in vasodilation.
Normal mice given the amino acids beginning at nine months of age had a median life span of 869 days, while untreated animals had a life span of 774 days. This benefit was not evident in mice lacking endothelial nitric oxide synthase, suggesting that phenomena mediated by the enzyme could contribute the amino acids' benefit.
Food intake, weight, and adiposity were similar in supplemented and unsupplemented animals, indicating that the effect of branched chain amino acids was not related to adipose tissue reduction. Further experimentation determined that supplemented animals experience an increase in cardiac and skeletal muscle mitochondria, which are the energy producing organelles of cells. There was also greater activity of a longevity-associated gene known as SIRT1, and less oxidative damage, which are effects similar to those conferred by calorie restriction in some studies. Animals given branched-chain amino acids additionally showed increased exercise endurance and motor coordination.
"This is the first demonstration that an amino acid mixture can increase survival in mice," Dr Nisoli stated. He observed that amino acid supplements do not have to be digested as do the proteins which contain them, enabling them to enter the bloodstream immediately. "They come with no energy cost."
"These data reveal an important antiaging role of branched-chain amino acids mediated by mitochondrial biogenesis in mammals," the authors write. Dr Nisoli concluded that the findings represent a "general philosophy of a nutritional approach to disease, aging, and problems of energy status."
Exercise is a proven life extender. Literally thousands of clinical trials have documented the benefits of a regular exercise program. It has been shown to reduce the risk of many diseases, including heart disease, the leading killer in the United States. It is effective in preventing obesity and depression, and it helps people of all ages maintain flexibility, strength, and even independence.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Essential amino acids, which are not synthesized by the human body and must be obtained from outside sources, include phenylalanine, isoleucine, methionine, valine, histidine, arginine, lysine, and leucine. Of these, isoleucine, leucine, and valine are branched-chain amino acids. They improve performance and prevent muscle metabolism during endurance exercise (Workman J 2002; Shimomura Y et al 2006; Ohtani M et al 2006). In a study comparing amino acid and carbohydrate supplements, amino acid supplements improved walking and isometric muscle strength in older participants (Scognamiglio R et al 2004).
There are many benefits to a program of regular exercise. In addition to enhanced self-esteem, exercise can promote weight loss and aid in the prevention of a number of diseases, including heart disease and diabetes. The following nutrients have been shown to enhance muscle function, promote quicker recovery after exercise, and increase strength:
Carnitine—1000 to 2000 milligrams (mg) daily
Carnosine—1500 to 3000 mg daily
Branched-chain amino acids—containing at least 1200 mg L-leucine, 600 mg L-isoleucine, and 600 mg L-valine
Glutamine—500 to 1000 mg daily
Whey protein—consider taking 20 to 80 grams (g) whey protein daily. It is most important to consume whey protein before and immediately after your exercise session to make sure adequate protein is available to depleted muscles.
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