Your Building Blocks of Life: Amino Acids!

Many people relate the word amino acid with proteins, and they usually relate that with muscle, however this small chemical molecules where the primary blocks that made possible to create the primordial soup that we have heard in the evolution theories.

These molecules are the ones that started to create one of the first molecules that contained instructions for you to assemble more proteins, which is the RNA (ribonucleic acid) without these amazing tool your body would not be able to synthesize your first DNA molecules, which are your nucleotides.

As technical as those names sounds, we are just talking about a lego game that happens to be your whole backbone structure, your blueprint to be able to synthesize your whole arsenal of chemical molecules for your metabolic, immune, cognitive and cardiovascular functions.

There are twenty different kind of amino acids globally recognized, some others are variants of those twenty and they now are also considered amino acids. These amazing blocks happen to be involved as mention in several essential processes and as such it would be impossible to cover all here.

That's why the main purpose of this article is to give you a glimpse into some of the most important amino acids trying to cover the functions mentioned before and their consequences.

Amino acids that will aid your Metabolism to Flow!

The Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) widely known in sports nutrition and as a performance aid to gain strength and muscular mass, not only have those properties, there are many relevant functions of these amino acids which happen to include the regulation of one of the most important freeways inside of your body, the famous Krebs Cycle or Tricarboxylic Acid Cycle (TCA), which is one of metabolic main destination for energy generation, to obtain several essential molecules that will repair, recover and replenish other pathways and that pretty much all the macronutrients will end up being guided to!

Through the formation of certain molecules such as Propionyl-CoA, Succinyl CoA, Acetyl-CoA and Acetoacetate, which the first two are precursors of ketone bodies, and the last two are in fact ketone bodies will give you plenty of energy to feel a good level of stamina, alertness and maintain an overall decent level of energy throughout your activities whether they are physical or mental.

Apart from as nutritionally Essential Amino Acids (EAAs) for protein synthesis, the BCAAs also act as the signaling molecules participating in nutrition metabolism. Adipose tissue plays a major role in glucose and lipid homeostasis through the storage of excess nutrients and lipolysis, and also has a role in maintaining balance of BCAAs. Excess nutrient intake or obesity causes both raise BCAAs catabolism and inhibition of fatty acid oxidation in the skeletal muscle and adipose tissue, respectively. A previous study has demonstrated the potential capacity for adipose tissue to regulate circulating BCAAs in vivo via coordinate regulation of adipose-tissue BCAAs enzymes (1).

As pointed out above, making yourself prone to have an excess of weight, by accumulating adipose tissue not only will start developing certain chronic illnesses such as obesity, diabetes followed by metabolic syndrome. But it will also contribute so that your body starts lowering the amounts of BCAAs which will end up affecting your energy levels, your alertness, and even your cognitive functions!

Moreover, there's a message that is actually counteracting the functions of these amino acids, as many athletes and people that want to increase muscle mass supplement in excess these kind of amino acids without knowing the biochemical facts, when you have an excess of these amino acids, you signal your body and your internal metabolism to stop producing energy and as a consequence you stimulate the fatty acid synthesis which leads you gain weight but not only that you're also predisposing yourself to have an impaired signalling process for insulin uptake and the use of glucose by your body, which eventually will predispose you to develop diabetes! Therefore be careful with wrong messages, or trending information about magical supplements!

The BCAAs and Your Cognitive Health!

These amazing BCAAs have another special feature, which makes them of paramount relevance for your cognitive health.

Your Neurotransmitters require nitrogen to be assembled, and one of the most important suppliers of these valuable element is glutamate and glutamine which acquire their nitrogen from the BCAAs that feed the supply chain to maintain healthy levels of these compounds.

On the other hand, whenever you have an excess of these BCAAs and you're oversupplying your brain with nitrogen, these processes can be very toxic and damaging to your cognitive health, leading you to present neurologic dysfunction, mental retardation, seizures and psychomotor delay!

It is even a routine to test newborns for some metabolic functions which include to check upon some key enzymes that allow them to clean their nitrogen levels in their bodies and to avoid brain damage!

The function of BCAA in peripheral nitrogen metabolism, the significant brain uptake of BCAA, and the neurologic effects on the glutmatergic and GABAergic system observed in a spontaneously occurring bovine model, support the hypothesis that they are nitrogen donors in Glu (Glutamate) and Gln (Glutamine) metabolism in the brain. Glutamate is the major excitatory neurotransmitter in brain, and it serves as a precursor for Gln and the major inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA. The Glu/Gln cycle, first described by Berl and Clark using rodent models involves astrocytes and neurons in the brain, regulates neuronal Glu stores, and prevents excess Glu in the synaptic cleft (2).

The balance of these amino acids Glu and Gln is essential for the function of our brain as these amino acids will be precursors to feed the pool of the GABAergic system which is one of the most important systems to maintain several of your physiologic functions such as: relieving you from anxiety, improving your mood, regulates the release of sexual hormones (testosterone and estrogen), promotes lean muscle growth, helps you to burn fat, lowers your levels of blood sugar, and stabilizes blood pressure, in addition to regulate your electrical impulse transmission, allowing to have a better attention span, more clarity on your thoughts and improving your memory storage!

BCAAs and other amino acids Improve your Intestinal Health!

Your intestinal health and your microbiota is also influenced by the amount of nitrogen that you allow yourself to include in your diet!

As mentioned above BCAAs have a wide variety of functions in terms of metabolic activity which allow them to provide backbone structures of carbohydrates that will allow many of your flora intestinal to be healthy and also give a stable membrane formation for your intestinal connections and customs like structures which will allow you to have a correct balance of nutrients and to help you absorb in a much healthier way your overall nutrients.

As an important organ in the body, the intestinal tract has the highest level of immune activity and the destruction of intestinal homeostasis is closely related to the development of obesity, T2DM, IBD, atherosclerosis, and colon cancer. Growing investigations with animals and humans indicate that AAs are key regulators in maintaining intestinal health besides being substrates for the protein synthesis and other nitrogenous compounds, as well as the roles in maintenance and growth of organisms. For example, glutamine, arginine, and threonine could improve integrity of tight junctions, cell migration, anti-oxidative responses, and mucosal barrier functions in the intestine. Likewise, BCAAs also act as a regulator to promote intestinal development, nutrient transporters, and immune-related function and then improve gut health (2).

Besides regulating intestinal development and intestinal AAs transporter expression, BCAAs also have an intimate connection with other intestinal functions. BCAAs may enhance disease resistance and intestinal health through modulation of endogenous defensin in young animals and children (2).

As previously mentioned in another of our articles (3) your Gut Microbiota is essential and connected to your immune health as well as your mood and cognitive function, therefore it is not a surprise that the proper nutrition of BCAAs is involved in maintenance and supply of chemical molecules that will provide the substrate or primordial ingredients to form your immune messengers, the correct assembly of your membrane receptors (wifi antennae), and the correct formation of protein channels which allow the flow of essential minerals to your metabolic, immune and cognitive health!

BCAAs and Cancer prevention!

Another role for the BCAA Leu (Leucine), which is relevant to brain, is activation of mTOR, a serine/threonine protein kinase involved in the control of cell growth and proliferation. mTOR exists in two distinct protein complexes: mTORC1 and mTORC2. mTORC1 is rapamycin-sensitive and mTORC2 is rapamycin-insensitive. mTOR is involved in multiple brain functions, including synaptic plasticity, metabolic regulation, axon and dendrite development, neuron differentiation, gliogenesis, and food intake regulation. The BCAA Leu has long been known as a signaling molecule that stimulates protein synthesis in the periphery by activation of the mTORC1 pathway in selected tissues, particularly skeletal muscle. mTORC1 is sensitive to AAs and regulates growth by controlling protein and lipid synthesis, as well as autophagy (2).

As mentioned above Leucine is one of this amino acids known as BCAAs and as such, nowadays it has been related to some metabolic pathways which are involved in the maintenance of cell proliferation which is involved in tumor growth, and is also associated to the mTOR pathway identified in several tumor cells, as probably you've heard cancer cells hallmarks are metabolic proliferation pathways that will enable those cells to multiply, become immortal and spread all over the body.

Therefore the excessive amounts of this amino acid will trigger your metabolism to deviate their proper road onto a toxic pathway which probably not in the first months of over consuming these kind of amino acids but with time, you will be predisposing your metabolism to believe that what is required is the proliferation of lipid tissue, the over production of vascular tissue, and the simple over production of more cells which eventually will lead to the creation of a tumor.

That does not mean that if you consume supplements with these kind of amino acids you'll get cancer! It just means that as in many cases the excessive supplementation of an unnecessary precursor such as these BCAAs will lead to accumulation, that you'll body eventually (over years) will start to predisposing you to generate tumor cells or simply to the accumulation of other macronutrients such as the adipose tissue that will lead you to gain weight, become obese and then trigger the possible development of some types of cancer!

In summary, amino acids are not just used to gain muscle, are not just a fuel to give you energy or strength, they're some of the most important building blocks for many essential metabolic mechanisms, cognitive functions, immune repairing and maintenance, and allowing your body to maintain a correct homeostasis of one key element that will enable you to overall keep your physiologic health in tune! The homeostasis of nitrogen!

Sincerely, I hope that with this short but concise review of some of the relevant functions of the amino acids, you'll be more conscious to consume supplements, and you'll be more able to search what kind of foods contain more of these essential amino acids and you'll be more aware whenever you hear or read false publicity or marketing on magical supplements that promise quick results but have deeper consequences on your inner health!

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1. Nie, C., He, T., Zhang, W., Zhang, G., & Ma, X. (2018). Branched chain amino acids: beyond nutrition metabolism. International journal of molecular sciences, 19(4), 954.

2. Sperringer, J. E., Addington, A., & Hutson, S. M. (2017). Branched-chain amino acids and brain metabolism. Neurochemical research, 42(6), 1697-1709.

3. Ortega D. “Microbiota: More than a Gut Feeling?”. September 10th, 2019.

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