Amino Acids: Building Blocks of Power
by Jared M. Skowron, N.D
Amino acids are essential nutrients for life. The building blocks of protein, we get the majority of our nutrients from our food. Unfortunately, poor diet, gastrointestinal upset or disease, and medications such as acid blockers and reducers, prevent optimal digestion and absorption of amino acids. Thereby, many people have significant nutrient deficiencies.
Amino acids are extremely important in the creation of hormones, neurotransmitters, and have a direct effect on our blood vessels, organs, muscles, and immune system. Three common amino deficiencies are glutamine, taurine, and lysine.
Glutamine is a semi-essential or conditionally essential amino acid. Healthy people create enough glutamine through intracellular processes. Those under physical stress, or who have had trauma, surgery, or cancer therapy require much larger amounts than the body can produce and it becomes an essential amino acid during times of duress.
Glutamine is a healing amino acid. It improves cellular regeneration and proliferation. This is most apparent in the stomach and intestines, where our gastrointestinal (GI) lining replenishes every three days. Glutamine is an effective therapy for ulcers, leaky gut syndrome, intestinal permeability, and regenerating damaged intestinal cells. It is extremely supportive during chemotherapy and radiotherapy, which kill off GI cells and cause a huge number of side effects. Glutamine's restorative qualities also work internally, reducing recovery time after surgery and accelerating muscle repair after workouts.
As glutamine supports the GI system, it enhances the immune system, 70% of which resides in the gut! Supporting secretory IgA (the antibodies on our skin and intestinal lining), increasing interferon production, and preventing specific types of bacteria from entering the body through the colon are the most effective ways glutamine heals us. It is also a nutrient which is used to form glutathione, one of the most powerful antioxidants that helps prevent chronic disease in the body.
Athletes and those who exercise regularly will accelerate recovery time and improve muscle building when supplementing with glutamine. It is essential in nitrogen metabolism, acting as a nitrogen shuttle during workouts, as well as protecting against ammonia toxicity in the tissues. I normally recommend 5-10 g/day with the added suggestion of taking it before and after workouts.
Taurine, named after Taurus, was originally isolated from bull digestive enzymes (now it is made from a combination of cysteine, methionine, and vitamin E). The amino acid that escorts minerals into the cells, taurine has a high affinity for moving magnesium into muscle, nerve, retinal, blood, and heart cells. The combination of taurine and magnesium has a relaxing effect on all tissues it works upon.
Taurine also relaxes the nervous system. Acting as an inhibitory neurotransmitter, those with anxiety, mood issues, insomnia, and even seizures may feel improvement when supplementing with taurine. It relaxes the heart muscle, improving mineral absorption into the cardiac cells, and is an integral therapy in congestive heart failure. Acting on smooth muscle in the blood vessels, taurine will reduce blood pressure caused by stress and anxiety (but not when caused by cholesterol and atherosclerotic plaques).
Taurine is an important nutrient for those who exercise regularly. It alleviates muscle fatigue and increases exercise capacity. Along with regulating adipose tissue, taurine can be taken before a workout to improve blood flow to the muscles. I recommend 500-3000 mg daily.
Lysine, an essential amino acid, provides strength and energy. It is a direct producer of energy, as it metabolizes into Acetyl CoA and enters the Krebs cycle of energy production in our mitochondria. Lysine also forms glucose and ketone, both of which are types of fuel for the body.
Also active in anti-viral treatments, lysine is an important nutrient used to maintain a high lysine/arginine ratio. Certain viruses, especially herpes, have a high level of arginine, and will activate when there is a low amount of lysine in the body. Therefore, lysine is a fantastic way to prevent herpes outbreaks, however, it is not as effective in treating the outbreaks.
Those exercising or trying to lose weight should supplement with lysine. It converts directly into carnitine, which expedites the breakdown of fats. It improves recovery from muscle injury during workout and builds muscle protein and collagen. Lysine is poorly absorbed when there is sugar or simple carbohydrates in the diet. A low-sugar diet should therefore be instituted when supplementing with lysine. I normally suggest 3 g/day.
Supplementing with amino acids ensures that your body continues to generate the power and vitality it needs to keep you in good health. Dr. Skowron is the Senior Naturopathic Physician with Metabolic Maintenance. He may be reached at (800) 772-7873.