What Are the Benefits and Risks of Taking Amino Acid Supplements?

Reviewed on 3/18/2021

What is an amino acid supplement?

Amino acid supplementation may benefit you if your body is lacking in one or more of the essential amino acids.
Amino acid supplementation may benefit you if your body is lacking in one or more of the essential amino acids.

Amino acids are sometimes referred to as the building blocks of life or the building blocks of protein. They are organic compounds that the human body uses to help form protein. All amino acids contain oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen

There are three different types of amino acids, and they are:

  • Essential amino acids
  • Conditional amino acids
  • Nonessential amino acids

Nonessential and conditional amino acids are made by the body, regardless of nutrition intake, whereas essential amino acids come from the food that we eat. A diet rich in protein is considered an important part of the body receiving enough essential amino acids. 

Generally, when people talk about amino acid supplements, they are talking about supplements that contain one or more of the nine essential amino acids that the body does not produce on its own. These include: 

Arginine is required for children but is typically not included in amino acid supplements. 

Branch chain amino acids are a group of essential amino acids commonly found in over-the-counter supplements. Branch chain refers to three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. 

Essential amino acids are typically received through proper diet and nutrition. Sometimes amino acid supplementation is recommended. 

A diet that contains sufficient protein from meat, fish, dairy products, and eggs is typically all that is needed. Additional amino acids may be recommended when receiving treatment for diseases such as cancer or while under excessive stress

Amino acids are useful because they:

  • Help with the digestion of food
  • Assist in repairing body tissue and the growth process
  • Are used by the body as an energy source

Benefits of amino acid supplements

Like any medication or supplement, there are risks and benefits. Speak with your healthcare provider to see if supplementation with an essential amino acid blend would improve your overall health

Muscle function

Proper amino acid levels are important for muscle development and strength. They help control the balance between the atrophy and growth of human muscle. 

Supplementing your diet with essential amino acids may increase the supply of nitrogen to your body. It can also help maintain the amount of amino acids stored in your skeletal muscles.  

Sports performance

Amino acids are frequently marketed to athletes along with a high protein diet. Your muscle growth may be increased if you consume essential amino acids shortly before or after exercise

Amino acids may also aid in the exercise recovery period. It is unclear, however, if there is a significant difference between supplementing with amino acids and simply eating a high protein diet

Blood glucose levels

Amino acids have been shown to be beneficial to blood sugar levels. Some people with type 2 diabetes who take amino acids are able to lower their blood sugar without impacting their insulin levels. It is unclear what the long-term effects of amino acid supplements on blood sugar may be. 

Skin conditions

Young women who take amino acid supplements may improve their overall skin condition and its moisture level. They can also improve their muscle mass.


 

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Conclusion

Amino acid supplementation may benefit you if your body is lacking in one or more of the essential amino acids. A healthcare provider or nutritionist can help analyze your diet to determine if you should consider taking amino acid supplements. 

Three of the most commonly mentioned risks of long-term amino acid supplementation are nausea, headache, and pain

Amino acid supplements can impact your blood sugar levels. This means that you should avoid them before and after surgery

Many experts advise against taking supplements that contain a single amino acid. Amino acids with the worst side effects if you take too much include methionine, cysteine, and histidine.  

Amino acid supplements may interact with other medications that you are taking, including diabetes and thyroid medication. Always check with your doctor before supplementing with amino acids.  

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References
The Biology Project University of Arizona: "The Chemistry of Amino Acids."

Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle: "Clinical Use of Amino Acids as Dietary Supplement."

Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition: "Effect of amino-acid intake on physical conditions and skin state."

Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "Dietary Supplements and Sports Performance: Amino Acids."

The Journal of Nutrition: "The Nature of Human Hazards Associated with Excessive Intake of Amino Acids."

Medical Science Monitor: "Effect of oral supplementation of free amino acids in type 2 diabetic patients."

National Institute of Health: “Protein and Amino Acids.”

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