Greater branched-chain amino acid intake associated with lower likeliness of being overweight
In a study reported online on December 14, 2010 in the Journal of Nutrition, an international team of researchers report an association between an increased intake of the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) leucine, isoleucine and valine and a reduced risk of being overweight or obese. Leucine, isoleucine and valine are essential amino acids, which must be obtained in the diet, and are consumed in the form of supplements by athletes and other individuals.
The study included 4,429 nondiabetic men and women between the ages of 40 and 59 enrolled in the International Study of Macro-/Micronutrients and Blood Pressure (INTERMAP) Study, a cross-sectional investigation of individuals residing in Japan, China, the United Kingdom and the United States. Subject interview responses concerning food, beverage and supplement intake were analyzed for protein, branched chain amino acid and other content.
Calorie intake and body mass index were significantly lower in Asian participants compared to those residing in the UK and US. While 25.3 percent of the Chinese subjects and 26.3 percent of the Japanese subjects were categorized as overweight, the percentage rose to 69.3 percent of those residing in the UK and 70.2 percent of Americans. Obesity was identified in 1.9 and 3.4 percent of the Chinese and Japanese participants, compared with 22.4 percent and 33.3 percent of those in the UK and US. Increased consumption of branched-chain amino acids was associated with a lower adjusted risk of being overweight. For those whose intake was among the top 25 percent of participants, a 30 percent lower risk of being overweight was observed in comparison with those whose intake was lowest. The risk of obesity among British and American subjects also had an inverse association with branched chain amino acid intake, with a 25 percent lower risk occurring among participants whose BCAA intake was highest compared to those whose intake was among the lowest fourth.
In their discussion of possible protective mechanisms for the amino acids against weight gain, the authors write that leucine may increase energy expenditure, stimulate the hormone leptin, and possibly increase the activity of mTOR, which, like leptin, regulates energy balance. The branched-chain amino acids may also help reduce impaired glucose tolerance, which contributes to obesity.
"The cross-sectional design of the INTERMAP Study limits inferences as to the causal relationship between BCAA intake and risk of overweight status/obesity," the authors note. "To our knowledge, however, this is the only population-based study that has examined this issue. It adds evidence to existing literature that significant inverse associations between BCAA intake and overweight status may explain at least partially the weight loss effect of high-protein diets reported by previous intervention studies."
"Further studies are needed to investigate this long-term association and to determine a potential causal relationship," they conclude.
Obtaining dietary carbohydrates from foods (e.g., vegetables, whole fruits, and whole grains) is an important component of an effective anti-aging weight-management program. What's important to understand, however, is that not all carbohydrates are created equal. Complex carbohydrates, such as those found in leafy vegetables and whole grains, are an important part of a healthy diet. They are absorbed slowly and do not cause rapid increases in blood sugar levels.
To better monitor the kind of carbohydrates we eat, it's helpful to understand the concepts of “glycemic index” and “glycemic load.” The glycemic index is a measure of how much insulin a particular food will stimulate based on its carbohydrates. The glycemic load, which is based on the actual impact that typical meals have on blood glucose levels, is probably a better indicator because not all foods with a high glycemic index actually stimulate the rapid release of insulin (watermelon, for instance). Once again, foods with a high glycemic load tend to stimulate overproduction of insulin and should be avoided.
Consuming foods high in refined carbohydrates (e.g., white bread, cookies, candy, soda, white potatoes, white rice) and foods high in saturated fat (e.g., luncheon meats, beef, bacon, tropical oils) is a poor weight-management strategy. Instead, mixed meals that contain easily digested animal protein (e.g., fish, skinless chicken, turkey), unrefined fiber-rich carbohydrates (e.g., wild rice, yams, broccoli), and foods high in monounsaturated fat (e.g., olives and olive oil, pistachio nuts, avocados) are more effective in achieving a healthy, optimal body weight.
Essential fatty acids (omega-3) found in fish oils promote thermogenesis, the process by which foods are converted to heat. Because of this, the body burns calories instead of converting them into fat for storage (McCarty 1994). Another benefit of essential fatty acids is to make cell membranes more sensitive to the effects of insulin (Storlien et al 1986, 1987, 1996; Borkman et al 1993; Vessby et al 1994; Pan et al 1995).
Eating fish is an excellent way to promote weight loss. Many people also choose to take essential fatty acid supplements that are high in EPA and DHA extracted from fish oils.
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