Weight loss is one of the most recommended lifestyle changes to improve health.  When losing weight, most people hope to simply shed fat; however, most will lose weight by decreasing both fat and muscle mass, which is not always good. The manner in which one loses weight is critical for long-term health, and research now shows that simple supplementation of branched chain amino acids can be effective in maintaining vital muscle mass while shedding fat.

Ineffective dieting can put one at greater risk from malnutrition than if never embarking on a diet in the first place.  This is especially true if one has cardiovascular and/or metabolic disease.

Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the most influential regulator of how you burn calories.  BMR – the amount of calories you need if you were completely inactive – accounts for 70% of all the calories you burn each day.  Physical activity (exercise) accounts for only 5-10% of your BMR, and the amount of muscle mass has a lot to do with the rest.  To maintain or increase your BMR, you need to maintain or increase your muscle mass.

Muscle is more active and energy-demanding than fat, so the more muscle you have (vs. fat), the higher your BMR and the easier it is for you to have a lean, healthy body.  Muscle contains the highest amount of amino acids in the body. When you embark on a weight loss regime, it is important not only to reduce calories and add aerobic activity (as this actually reduces your BMR), but to also incorporate elements to maintain muscle mass. Keep in mind that over-exercise can increase the rate of muscle loss, as muscles are broken down for nutrients making it even more difficult to lose fat.

Muscle breakdown also occurs in conditions such as congestive heart failure, diabetes, fatty liver, and muscle wasting due to cancer.  With these conditions, the liver produces low amounts of glucose and the body resorts to breaking down muscle to release amino acids for the purpose of maintaining safe blood sugar levels.  Malnutrition and inflammation are both strong predictors of mortality in people with these conditions.

At a recent conference on functional medicine, board-certified internist and cardiologist Bijan Pourat, MD discussed how nutritional supplementation of branched chain amino acids can maintain or increase lean body muscle mass. This is important whether you want to lose weight, or simply improve health while living with a chronic disease. Dr. Pourat noted that amino acid supplementation is also an approach to help the elderly reduce muscle deterioration that often occurs with age.

Studies have found branch chain amino acids to have benefits including increased muscle mass and BMR without exercise, increased exercise capacity, quicker recovery post exercise, improved circulation, reversal of heart failure and the regeneration of mitochondrial ATP production (cellular energy).

Whether you are actively working to lose weight or struggling with a chronic condition, speak with your health care practitioner to determine if branched chain amino acids may be beneficial in achieving your health care goals.

Nicole Ortiz, ND is co-founder of Live Well Clinic and a Naturopathic Primary Care Doctor. For more information visit www.livewellclinic.org. (760) 771-5970 

Resources: 1) Bozzetti F. Total Parenteral Nutrition in Cancer Patients. Curr Opin Support Palliat Care. 2007;1(4):281-286.; 2) Gheorghiade, Mihai MD. The Role of Nutritional Supplements with Essential Amino Acids in Patients with Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes Mellitus. American Journal of Cardiology. Vol93 (8A). April 22 2004; 3) Sebastiano B, et all. Improvement of Blood Glucose Control and Insulin Sensitivity During a Long-Term Randomized Study with Amino Acid Dietary Supplements in Elderly Subjects with Type II Diabetes Mellitis The American Journal of Cardiology Vol 101 (11A) June 2 2008.

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Comments (2)

  • How do I get supplements?

    • Lauren Del Sarto

      Thank you for reading Desert Health, Phyllis! You can bring this article to any health food store and they can direct you to amino acids, but it is recommended you visit a natural health care practitioner first to identify your individual needs.

      Lauren Del Sarto


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