Branched-chain amino acids are essential nutrients that the body obtains from proteins found in food, especially meat, dairy products, and legumes. They include leucine, isoleucine, and valine. “Branched-chain” refers to the chemical structure of these amino acids. People use branched-chain amino acids for medicine.
Branched-chain amino acids are used to treat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease), brain conditions due to liver disease (chronic hepatic encephalopathy, latent hepatic encephalopathy), a movement disorder called tardive dyskinesia, a genetic disease called McArdle's disease, a disease called spinocerebellar degeneration, and poor appetite in elderly kidney failure patients and cancer patients. Branched-chain amino acids are also used to help slow muscle wasting in people who are confined to bed.
Some people use branched-chain amino acids to prevent fatigue and improve concentration.
Athletes use branched-chain amino acids to improve exercise performance and reduce protein and muscle breakdown during intense exercise.
Healthcare providers give branched-chain amino acids intravenously (by IV) for sudden brain swelling due to liver disease (acute hepatic encephalopathy) and also when the body has been under extreme stress, for example after serious injury or widespread infection.
How does it work?
Branched-chain amino acids stimulate the building of protein in muscle and possibly reduce muscle breakdown. Branched-chain amino acids seem to prevent faulty message transmission in the brain cells of people with advanced liver disease, mania, tardive dyskinesia, and anorexia.
Possibly Effective for:
- Improving muscle control and mental function in people with advanced liver disease (latent hepatic encephalopathy).
- Reducing muscle breakdown during exercise.
- Decreasing symptoms associated with mania.
- Reducing movements associated with tardive dyskinesia, a disorder associated with the use of antipsychotic medications.
- Reducing loss of appetite and improving nutrition in elderly patients on hemodialysis.
Possibly Ineffective for:
- Enhancing exercise or athletic performance.
Likely Ineffective for:
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease). Early studies showed promising results, but more recent studies show no benefit and possibly worse lung function and higher death rates among patients using branched-chain amino acids.
- Treating a disease of the spine called spinocerebellar degeneration (SCD).
- Preventing fatigue.
- Treating type 2 diabetes.
- Improving concentration.
- Restoring appetite in cancer patients.
- Preventing muscle wasting in people confined to bed.
- Other conditions.
Side Effects & Safety
Branched-chain amino acids appear to be safe for most people when used for up to 6 months. Some side effects are known to occur, such as fatigue and loss of coordination. Branched-chain amino acids should be used cautiously before or during activities where performance depends on motor coordination, such as driving.
Special Precautions & Warnings:Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Not enough is known about the use of branched-chain amino acids during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease): The use of branched-chain amino acids has been linked with lung failure and higher death rates when used in patients with ALS. If you have ALS, don’t use branched-chain amino acids until more is known.
Branched-chain ketoaciduria: Seizures and severe mental and physical retardation can result if intake of branched-chain amino acids is increased. Don’t use branched-chain amino acids if you have this condition.
Chronic alcoholism: Dietary use of branched-chain amino acids in alcoholics has been associated with liver disease leading to brain damage (hepatic encephalopathy).
Low blood sugar in infants: Intake of one of the branched-chain amino acids, leucine, has been reported to lower blood sugar in infants with a condition called idiopathic hypoglycemia. This term means they have low blood sugar, but the cause is unknown. Some research suggests leucine causes the pancreas to release insulin, and this lowers blood sugar.
Surgery: Branched-chain amino acids might affect blood sugar levels, and this might interfere with blood sugar control during and after surgery. Stop using branched-chain amino acids at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.
Moderate Interaction Be cautious with this combination
- Levodopa interacts with BRANCHED-CHAIN AMINO ACIDS
Branched-chain amino acids might decrease how much levodopa the body absorbs. By decreasing how much levodopa the body absorbs, branched-chain amino acids might decrease the effectiveness of levodopa. Do not take branched-chain amino acids and levodopa at the same time.
- Medications for diabetes (Antidiabetes drugs) interacts with BRANCHED-CHAIN AMINO ACIDS
Branched-chain amino acids might decrease blood sugar. Diabetes medications are also used to lower blood sugar. Taking branched-chain amino acids along with diabetes medications might cause your blood sugar to go too low. Monitor your blood sugar closely. The dose of your diabetes medication might need to be changed.
Some medications used for diabetes include glimepiride (Amaryl), glyburide (DiaBeta, Glynase PresTab, Micronase), insulin, pioglitazone (Actos), rosiglitazone (Avandia), chlorpropamide (Diabinese), glipizide (Glucotrol), tolbutamide (Orinase), and others.
Minor Interaction Be watchful with this combination
- Diazoxide (Hyperstat, Proglycem) interacts with BRANCHED-CHAIN AMINO ACIDS
Branched-chain amino acids are used to help make proteins in the body. Taking Diazoxide along with branched-chain amino acids might decrease the effects of branched-chain amino acids on proteins. More information is needed about this interaction.
- Medications for inflammation (Corticosteroids) interacts with BRANCHED-CHAIN AMINO ACIDS
Branched-chain amino acids are used to help make proteins in the body. Taking drugs called glucocorticoids along with branched-chain amino acids might decrease the effects of branched-chain amino acids on proteins. More information is needed about this interaction.
- Thyroid hormone interacts with BRANCHED-CHAIN AMINO ACIDS
Branched-chain amino acids help the body make proteins. Some thyroid hormone medications can decrease how fast the body breaks down branched-chain amino acids. However, more information is needed to know the significance of this interaction.
The following doses have been studied in scientific research:
- For a brain condition due to liver disease (hepatic encephalopathy): 240 mg/kg/day up to 25 grams of branched-chain amino acids.
- For mania: a 60 gram branched-chain amino acid drink containing valine, isoleucine, and leucine in a ratio of 3:3:4 every morning for 7 days.
- For tardive dyskinesia: a branched-chain amino acid drink containing valine, isoleucine, and leucine at a dose of 222 mg/kg taken three times daily for 3 weeks.
- For anorexia and improving overall nutrition in elderly malnourished hemodialysis patients: granules of branched-chain amino acids consisting of valine, leucine, and isoleucine at a dose of 4 grams taken three times daily.
- Healthcare providers give branched-chain amino acids intravenously (by IV) for brain enlargement due to liver disease (hepatic encephalopathy).