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Search Health Information    Branched-Chain Amino Acids

Branched-Chain Amino Acids

Uses

What Are Star Ratings?

Our proprietary “Star-Rating” system was developed to help you easily understand the amount of scientific support behind each supplement in relation to a specific health condition. While there is no way to predict whether a vitamin, mineral, or herb will successfully treat or prevent associated health conditions, our unique ratings tell you how well these supplements are understood by the medical community, and whether studies have found them to be effective for other people.

For over a decade, our team has combed through thousands of research articles published in reputable journals. To help you make educated decisions, and to better understand controversial or confusing supplements, our medical experts have digested the science into these three easy-to-follow ratings. We hope this provides you with a helpful resource to make informed decisions towards your health and well-being.

3 Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.

2 Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.

1 Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.

This supplement has been used in connection with the following health conditions:

Used for Why
2 Stars
Liver Cirrhosis
At least 5 grams daily, up to 0.24 grams per 2.2 lbs (1 kg) body weight per day
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In addition to protein deficiency, liver cirrhosis is characterized by low blood levels of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) in relation to other amino acids .1 This imbalance may contribute to the development of PSE.2 BCAA supplementation could be a way to correct this problem, as well as to provide a source of needed protein, but its effectiveness is unclear.3 BCAAs (isoleucine, leucine, and valine) represent a good protein source for people with cirrhosis because they are less likely to induce PSE. A controlled study of protein-intolerant people with cirrhosis showed that BCAA supplementation corrected abnormal protein metabolism about as well as an equivalent amount of dietary protein without inducing PSE as frequently.4 In a small double-blind trial, people with liver cirrhosis taking 5 grams per day of BCAAs had significant improvement in their ability to process protein.5

However, treatment trials using BCAAs alone or in solutions containing other amino acids in people with cirrhosis and PSE have reported conflicting results.6 , 7 , 8 , 9 It may be that certain people with liver cirrhosis can benefit from supplementation with BCAAs while others cannot, for reasons that are unclear.10 In a double-blind trial, people with liver cirrhosis and PSE received 0.24 grams per 2.2 pounds body weight (approximately 16–17 grams per day) of BCAAs for 15 days, after which most experienced significant improvement in brain function, mental status, and protein metabolism. Those who continued taking BCAAs for three months also had mild improvement in liver function tests.11

Therapeutic effects of oral BCAAs have also been shown in children with liver failure12 and in adults with cirrhosis of the liver without PSE.13 Overall, it appears that BCAA supplementation does not always help in cirrhosis, but some people with and without PSE may benefit. A qualified doctor must closely supervise such BCAA supplementation.

2 Stars
Phenylketonuria
Take under medical supervision: 150 mg daily per 2.2 lbs (1 kg) of body weight each of valine and isoleucine, and 200 mg daily per 2.2 lbs (1 kg) of body weight of leucine
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In a double-blind trial, regular use of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) (i.e., valine, isoleucine, and leucine) by adolescents and young adults with PKU improved performance on some tests of mental functioning.14Participants received either placebo, or 150 mg per 2.2 pounds of body weight each of valine and isoleucine, and 200 mg per 2.2 pounds of body of leucine, taken with meals and at bedtime. Participants received one mixture or the other for four three-month periods, for a total of six months’ supplementation of each regimen over the course of a year.
1 Star
Athletic Performance and Mental Decline During Exercise at Extreme Temperature
Refer to label instructions
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Some research has shown that supplemental branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) (typically 10 to 20 grams per day) do not result in meaningful changes in body composition,15 nor do they improve exercise performance or enhance the effects of physical training.16 , 17 , 18 , 19 , 20 , 21 However, BCAA supplementation may be useful in special situations, such as preventing muscle loss at high altitudes and prolonging endurance performance in the heat.22 , 23 One controlled study gave triathletes 6 grams per day of BCAA for one month before a competition, then 3 grams per day from the day of competition until a week following. Compared with a placebo, BCAA restored depleted glutamine stores and immune factors that occur in elite athletes, and led to a reported one-third fewer symptoms of infection during the period of supplementation.24 Studies by one group of researchers suggest that BCAA supplementation may also improve exercise-induced declines in some aspects of mental functioning.25 , 26 , 27

1 Star
Athletic Performance and Post-Exercise Infection at Extreme Temperature
Refer to label instructions
Learn More

Some research has shown that supplemental branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) (typically 10 to 20 grams per day) do not result in meaningful changes in body composition,28 nor do they improve exercise performance or enhance the effects of physical training.29 , 30 , 31 , 32 , 33 , 34 However, BCAA supplementation may be useful in special situations, such as preventing muscle loss at high altitudes and prolonging endurance performance in the heat.35 , 36 One controlled study gave triathletes 6 grams per day of BCAA for one month before a competition, then 3 grams per day from the day of competition until a week following. Compared with a placebo, BCAA restored depleted glutamine stores and immune factors that occur in elite athletes, and led to a reported one-third fewer symptoms of infection during the period of supplementation.37 Studies by one group of researchers suggest that BCAA supplementation may also improve exercise-induced declines in some aspects of mental functioning.38 , 39 , 40

1 Star
Tardive Dyskinesia
Refer to label instructions
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Preliminary research has linked TD to the inability of the body to metabolize the amino acid phenylalanine . Supplementing with branched-chain amino acids (BCAA), including valine, isoleucine, and leucine, could reduce excess phenylalanine in people with this disorder. In one trial, researchers examined the effects of BCAA supplementation in people with TD (from 150 mg per 2.2 pounds body weight, up to 209 mg per 2.2 pounds body weight) after breakfast and one hour before lunch and dinner for two weeks.41 The BCAA mixture included equal parts valine and isoleucine plus 33% more leucine than either of the other two amino acids. Of nine people treated, six experienced at least a 58% reduction in symptoms, and all nine had a least a 38% decrease.

How It Works

How to Use It

Most diets provide an adequate amount of BCAAs for most people, which is about 25–65 mg per 2.2 pounds of body weight.42 , 43 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.

Where to Find It

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.

Possible Deficiencies

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.

Interactions

Interactions with Supplements, Foods, & Other Compounds

At the time of writing, there were no well-known supplement or food interactions with this supplement.

Interactions with Medicines

As of the last update, we found no reported interactions between this supplement and medicines. It is possible that unknown interactions exist. If you take medication, always discuss the potential risks and benefits of adding a new supplement with your doctor or pharmacist.
The Drug-Nutrient Interactions table may not include every possible interaction. Taking medicines with meals, on an empty stomach, or with alcohol may influence their effects. For details, refer to the manufacturers’ package information as these are not covered in this table. If you take medications, always discuss the potential risks and benefits of adding a supplement with your doctor or pharmacist.

Side Effects

Side Effects

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.44 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.

References

1. Lieber CS. Nutrition in liver disorders. In: Shils ME, Olson JA, Shike M, Ross AC (eds). Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease, 9th ed. Baltimore, MD: Williams and Wilkins, 1999, 1179–80.

2. Beers MH, Berkow R (eds). The Merck Manual, 17th ed. Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck and Co., Inc., 1999, 362–4.

3. Nompleggi DJ, Bonkovsky HL. Nutritional supplementation in chronic liver disease: an analytical review. Hepatology 1994;19:518–33 [review].

4. Horst D, Grace ND, Conn HO, et al. Comparison of dietary protein with an oral, branched chain-enriched amino acid supplement in chronic portal-systemic encephalopathy: a randomized controlled trial. Hepatology 1984;4:279–87.

5. Okita M, Watanabe A, Nagashima H. Treatment of liver cirrhosis with branched chain amino acid-supplemented diet. Gastroenterol Jpn 1981;16:389–92.

6. Maddrey WC. Branched chain amino acid therapy in liver disease. J Am Coll Nutr 1985;4:639–50 [review].

7. Wahren J, Denis J, Desurmont P, et al. Is intravenous administration of branched chain amino acids effective in the treatment of hepatic encephalopathy? A multicenter study. Hepatology 1983;3:475–80.

8. Egberts E-H, Schomerus H, Hamster W, Jürgens P. Branched chain amino acids in the treatment of latent portosystemic encephalopathy. A doublel-blind placebo-controlled crossover study. Gastroenterology 1985;88:887–95.

9. Muto Y, Sato S, Watanabe A, et al. Effects of oral branched-chain amino acid granules on event-free survival in patients with liver cirrhosis. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2005;3:705–13.

10. Dioguardi FS, Brigatti M, Dell’Oca M, et al. Effects of chronic oral branched-chain amino acid supplementation in a subpopulation of cirrhotics. Clin Physiol Biochem 1990;8:101–7.

11. Marchesini G, Dioguardi FS, Bianchi GP, et al. Long-term oral branched-chain amino acid treatment in chronic hepatic encephalopathy. A randomized double-blind casein-controlled trial. The Italian Multicenter Study Group. J Hepatol 1990;11:92–101.

12. Chin SE, Shepherd RW, Thomas BJ, et al. Nutritional support in children with end-stage liver disease: a randomized crossover trial of a branched-chain amino acid supplement. Am J Clin Nutr 1992;56:158–63.

13. Kato M, Miwa Y, Tajika M, et al. Preferential use of branched-chain amino acids as an energy substrate in patients with liver cirrhosis. Internal Med 1998;37:429–34.

14. Berry HK, Brunner RL, Hunt MM, et al. Valine, isoleucine, and leucine. A new treatment for phenylketonuria. Am J Dis Child 1990;144:539–43.

15. Kelly GS. Sports nutrition: A review of selected nutritional supplements for bodybuilders and strength athletes. Alt Med Rev 1997;2:184–201.

16. Van Hall G, Raaymakers JSH, Saris WHM, Wagenmakers AJM. Supplementation with branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) and tryptophan has no effect on performance during prolonged exercise. Clin Sci 1994;87:52 [abstract #75].

17. Blomstrand E, Hassmen P, Ek S, et al. Influence of ingesting a solution of branched-chain amino acids on perceived exertion during exercise. Acta Physiol Scand 1997;159:41–9.

18. Madsen K, MacLean DA, Kiens B, et al. Effects of glucose, glucose plus branched-chain amino acids, or placebo on bike performance over 100 km. J Appl Physiol 1996;81:2644–50.

19. Davis JM, Welsh RS, De Volve KL, et al. Effects of branched-chain amino acids and carbohydrate on fatigue during intermittent, high Intensity running. Int J Sports Med 1999;20:309–14.

20. Vukovich MD, Sharp RL, Kesl LD, et al. Effects of a low-dose amino acid supplement on adaptations to cycling training in untrained individuals. Int J Sport Nutr 1997;7:298–309.

21. Freyssenet D, Berthon P, Denis C, et al. Effect of a 6-week endurance training programme and branched-chain amino acid supplementation on histomorphometric characteristics of aged human muscle. Arch Physiol Biochem 1996;104:157–62.

22. Schena F, Guerrini F, Tregnaghi P, et al. Branched-chain amino acid supplementation during trekking at high altitude. The effects on loss of body mass, body composition, and muscle power. Eur J Appl Physiol 1992;65:394–8.

23. Mittleman KD, Ricci MR, Bailey SP. Branched-chain amino acids prolong exercise during heat stress in men and women. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1998;30:83–91.

24. Bassit RA, Sawada LA, Bacurau RF, et al. The effect of BCAA supplementation upon the immune response of triathletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2000;32:1214–9.

25. Hassmén P, Blomstrand E, Ekblom B, Newsholme EA. Branched-chain amino acid supplementation during 30-km competitive run: mood and cognitive performance. Nutrition 1994;10:405–10.

26. Blomstrand E, Hassmen P, Ek S, et al. Influence of ingesting a solution of branched-chain amino acids on perceived exertion during exercise. Acta Physiol Scand 1997;159:41–9.

27. Blomstrand E, Hassmen P, Ekblom B, et al. Administration of branched-chain amino acids during sustained exercise-effects on performance and on plasma concentration of some amino acids. Eur J Appl Physiol 1991;63:83–8.

28. Kelly GS. Sports nutrition: A review of selected nutritional supplements for bodybuilders and strength athletes. Alt Med Rev 1997;2:184–201.

29. Van Hall G, Raaymakers JSH, Saris WHM, Wagenmakers AJM. Supplementation with branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) and tryptophan has no effect on performance during prolonged exercise. Clin Sci 1994;87:52 [abstract #75].

30. Blomstrand E, Hassmen P, Ek S, et al. Influence of ingesting a solution of branched-chain amino acids on perceived exertion during exercise. Acta Physiol Scand 1997;159:41–9.

31. Madsen K, MacLean DA, Kiens B, et al. Effects of glucose, glucose plus branched-chain amino acids, or placebo on bike performance over 100 km. J Appl Physiol 1996;81:2644–50.

32. Davis JM, Welsh RS, De Volve KL, et al. Effects of branched-chain amino acids and carbohydrate on fatigue during intermittent, high Intensity running. Int J Sports Med 1999;20:309–14.

33. Vukovich MD, Sharp RL, Kesl LD, et al. Effects of a low-dose amino acid supplement on adaptations to cycling training in untrained individuals. Int J Sport Nutr 1997;7:298–309.

34. Freyssenet D, Berthon P, Denis C, et al. Effect of a 6-week endurance training programme and branched-chain amino acid supplementation on histomorphometric characteristics of aged human muscle. Arch Physiol Biochem 1996;104:157–62.

35. Schena F, Guerrini F, Tregnaghi P, et al. Branched-chain amino acid supplementation during trekking at high altitude. The effects on loss of body mass, body composition, and muscle power. Eur J Appl Physiol 1992;65:394–8.

36. Mittleman KD, Ricci MR, Bailey SP. Branched-chain amino acids prolong exercise during heat stress in men and women. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1998;30:83–91.

37. Bassit RA, Sawada LA, Bacurau RF, et al. The effect of BCAA supplementation upon the immune response of triathletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2000;32:1214–9.

38. Hassmén P, Blomstrand E, Ekblom B, Newsholme EA. Branched-chain amino acid supplementation during 30-km competitive run: mood and cognitive performance. Nutrition 1994;10:405–10.

39. Blomstrand E, Hassmen P, Ek S, et al. Influence of ingesting a solution of branched-chain amino acids on perceived exertion during exercise. Acta Physiol Scand 1997;159:41–9.

40. Blomstrand E, Hassmen P, Ekblom B, et al. Administration of branched-chain amino acids during sustained exercise-effects on performance and on plasma concentration of some amino acids. Eur J Appl Physiol 1991;63:83–8.

41. Richardson MA, Bevans ML, Weber JB, et al. Branched chain amino acids decrease tardive dyskinesia symptoms. Psychopharmacology 1999;143:358–64.

42. 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.

43. 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.

44. 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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