Amino acids play an important role in the strength and recovery of muscles, but excessive intake of amino acids supplements can affect one’s health badly. This Buzzle article presents information on the adverse side effects of BCAA supplements.
Did You Know?
Ben Pearson, a 20-year-old junior Canadian hockey player, increased his protein intake, as he wanted to have strong muscles. Unfortunately, no one knew he had a rare genetic disorder, known as ‘urea cycle disorder’. His body couldn’t produce enough of a critical dietary enzyme that helps process protein. The increased protein intake boosted ammonia levels in his blood, which caused brain swelling, and led to his death.
Introduction to BCAA
L-Leucine, L-Isoleucine, and L-Valine are the three branched-chain (the term refers to the typical molecular structure) amino acids which account for 33% of muscle protein. They all belong to the category of essential amino acids. They are referred to as ‘essential’, as the human body cannot produce them. Certain amino acids are called ‘non-essential amino acids’, as the body is capable of making them. Essential amino acids need to be supplied through food. They not only help enhance the rate of protein synthesis, but also help reduce the rate of protein breakdown. This eventually results in muscle gain. Increased serotonin levels during exercise does not allow one to exercise for an extended period of time, as the individual feels tired. BCAAs reduce the amount of tryptophan (an amino acid) entering into the brain (where it can get converted into serotonin), and thus helps lower serotonin levels. As such, they increase exercise endurance and allow us to work harder and longer. Unlike other amino acids, BCAAs are metabolized in the muscle, rather than in the liver. When ingested, they are quickly absorbed in the blood. The supplements are also used to treat various diseases and disorders.
Side Effects of BCAA Supplements
Although BCAAs play a crucial role in human metabolism, excessive consumption may prove to be harmful for the body.
✦ Athletes should not take BCAA supplements without consulting a physician. If the supplement is taken for an extended period of time (for more than six months), the person may experience excessive tiredness and fatigue.
✦ These supplements act like a medicine when given to people suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), chronic loss of appetite (in elderly people diagnosed with kidney failure, cancer, etc.), and muscle wasting (in people who are confined to the bed). They are also used to treat certain brain disorders, liver diseases, and burn victims. But prolonged use of BCAA supplements can lead to fatigue and loss of coordination.
✦ Intake of this supplement can lead to nausea. Large doses can result in a stomach upset and indigestion.
✦ Not enough studies have been conducted to check the effects, or side effects of BCAA consumption during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Therefore, pregnant and lactating women should stay away from these supplements.
✦ Higher BCAA intake by people who have ALS can lead to lung failure, and in worst cases, may even lead to death.
✦ Very high doses can increase the levels of plasma ammonia in the body. This can affect several metabolic processes, and even adversely affect the functioning of the brain. The person may experience fatigue.
✦ Intake of leucine can lower blood sugar levels in infants with idiopathic hypoglycemia.
✦ BCAAs can slow down the process of water absorption in the guts.
✦ BCAA consumption by a person who is addicted to alcohol can result in hepatic encephalopathy (liver damage that eventually leads to brain damage).
✦ As BCAAs affect the blood glucose levels, those who are about to undergo a surgery should avoid them, at least 15 days before and after surgery.
✦ The risks associated with the excessive use of BCAAs also include seizures and severe mental as well as physical retardation. Therefore, they should not be taken by individuals who are already suffering from such conditions.
✦ A large dose of BCAA (higher than 25 g per day) may inhibit absorption of other essential amino acids in the body.
Interaction of Other Medicines with BCAA
✦ Levodopa is one of the main drugs used to treat the symptoms of Parkinson’s. Less amount of the medicine might get absorbed in the body because of BCAA. This might decrease its effectiveness.
✦ Drugs that are used to lower blood sugar levels (to control diabetes) can react with BCAAs, and can lead to hypoglycemia (abnormally low blood sugar level). BCAAs themselves bring down blood glucose levels, so when they are combined with a diabetes medication, the effect will be two-fold.
✦ Certain medicines like Diazoxide (Hyperstat, Proglycem), corticosteroids (which help lower inflammation), thyroid hormone, etc., should not be taken along with BCAAs.
If you are planning to take a BCAA supplement, it is necessary to inform your doctor about the medicines and supplements that you are presently taking.
Natural Sources of Essential Amino Acids
Eggs, salmons, beef, turkey, etc., are rich in essential amino acids. Whole grains like wheat, oats, brown rice, soy beans, nuts, seeds, dairy products including whey, beans, legumes, etc., are excellent sources of amino acids for vegetarians.
Although taking BCAAs for up to 6 months is considered safe for most people, every person’s lifestyle, training style, diet, metabolism, and physiology is different from others. All these aspects determine what supplements a person may benefit from, and what supplements may harm him/her. Depending upon his/her medical condition, fitness, exercise pattern, reason for use, etc., the physician may decide the dose of the supplement. Hence, the dose may vary from person to person. Moreover, the quality and active ingredients in the supplements may vary widely from brand to brand. Therefore, utmost care should be taken while taking these supplements.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and does not in any way attempt to replace the advice offered by a health care professional.