Amino acid supplements: what they are and how they work

Article by SoLongevity Research
What are amino acid supplements? What benefits do they have and how do they work? Who are they indicated for? Alessandro Orlandini, M.D., a pharmaceutical chemist and specialist in clinical biochemistry, now medical director of the Italian company Professional Dietetics, answers these questions.

What this article is about

  • What are amino acids
  • When and for whom amino acid supplements are indicated 
  • What are the advantages over a protein diet

Understanding nutraceuticals

Herbal substances, minerals, amino acids, hormones, vitamins… The category of dietary supplements is vast, and a wide variety of products can be found on the market. How do you find your way around? Through a series of interviews with experts in the field of nutraceuticals and medicine, we will try to understand how they differ, what they are used for, and, consequently, which ones might be best suited to each person’s needs.In this article we will delve into the topic of amino acid dietary supplements, which are very popular among athletes, but also very useful for postmenopausal women or, in general, for older people. Alessandro Orlandini, a medical doctor, pharmaceutical chemist and specialist in clinical biochemistry, now medical director of the Italian company Professional Dietetics, explains what they are, what benefits they provide and how they work.

Dr. Orlandini, what are amino acids and what are they used for?

Amino acids are crucial biological molecules. They are the building blocks with which cells construct the proteins that make up the body and make it function. There are 20 amino acids that are important for human beings, 9 of which are called essential because they are essential for life but which the body is unable to synthesize and therefore must be taken in through food, that is, by eating animal and/or plant proteins. Here is a false myth to dispel: it is true that no single vegetable alone contains all the essential amino acids, but we can still get them by combining different vegetables.

How much protein do we need every day to be healthy?

“An adult human being has a basic daily protein requirement of 0.8 grams per kg of body weight. However, with time the requirement increases and in older people it reaches 1.5 grams per kg of weight. This occurs because advanced age brings with it alterations in metabolism and intestinal absorption. These conditions can also occur in the presence of diseases or as a result of therapies, as in the case of cancer patients or those on dialysis. Another issue is to be made for athletes, who have to cope with increased protein requirements.”

 

Le proteine sono dei polimeri formati da sequenze di aminoacidi (strutture primarie) organizzate

Proteins are polymers formed from organized amino acid sequences (primary structures)

The daily protein requirement of an adult is 0.8 g/kg body weight, but with age or in the presence of disease it increases

When or for whom is amino acid supplementation suitable?

Amino acids have two biological advantages: they are both antioxidants and nutrients. Aging processes begin around the age of 20, but I believe that supplements with amino acids may prove useful especially after the age of 45-50, when metabolism begins to lean toward destruction reactions, that is catabolism, rather than building reactions, or anabolism.Even those who do sports, especially endurance sports, have a metabolism that leans toward catabolism, and in fact, when diet is not sufficient, they turn to amino acids. Supplementation with amino acids has the effect of improving the efficiency of our cells and reducing the production of oxidant ‘waste’. If the cell functions well and is efficient, it produces fewer free radicals. In older age, moreover, amino acid supplementation goes a long way toward making up for the typical dietary deficiencies of older people, due to less absorption of nutrients by the gut and the natural tendency, as we age, to eat less. People whose physique is debilitated due to disease or therapy can also benefit from amino acid supplementation. Just think of cancer patients, who are often inappetent, have intestinal disorders or disgust, or people with anorexia. Providing the body directly with amino acids, that is, proteins that have already been ‘disassembled,’ is an efficient way of coping with any deficiency. In fact, the body does not need to struggle to break down proteins or dialyze those that have been consumed poorly. This gives an advantage, because less strain is placed on the liverkidneys, and to some extent the pancreas. Again, when following Even those who do sports, especially endurance sports, have a metabolism that leans toward catabolism, and in fact, when diet is not sufficient, they turn to amino acids. Supplementation with amino acids has the effect of improving the efficiency of our cells and reducing the production of oxidant ‘waste’. If the cell functions well and is efficient, it produces fewer free radicals. In older age, moreover, amino acid supplementation goes a long way toward making up for the typical dietary deficiencies of older people, due to less absorption of nutrients by the gut and the natural tendency, as we age, to eat less. People whose physique is debilitated due to disease or therapy can also benefit from amino acid supplementation. Just think of cancer patients, who are often inappetent, have intestinal disorders or disgust, or people with anorexia. Providing the body directly with amino acids, that is, proteins that have already been ‘disassembled,’ is an efficient way of coping with any deficiency. In fact, the body does not need to struggle to break down proteins or dialyze those that have been consumed poorly. This gives an advantage, because less strain is placed on the liver, kidneys, and to some extent the pancreas. Again, when doing diets one should always ensure sufficient protein content.” one should always ensure sufficient protein content.”
Le persone che praticano sport hanno un aumentato fabbisogno proteico

Athletes often rely heavily on amino acids. Why? And is there a risk in excess intake?

“Increased demand for amino acids is seen especially among those in endurance sports (anticatabolic action). In those who do weightlifting or speed sports, protein is needed to build muscle (anabolism). In any case, there are no risks, because, if amino acids are used even in large quantities, no hepatic and/or renal load is caused, which would be the case if recovery from catabolism or anabolism were carried out with proteins to be ‘disassembled’.”

Where do the amino acids used to make supplements come from?

“They are derived from non-animal biological masses from which they are hydrolyzed and purified: this is why they can be taken even by vegans and, of course, they do not contain gluten. So they are not synthetic products, but they go through a process of extraction and purification. They are pure substances obtained in a standardizable and reproducible way. There are many on the market, and choosing the right ones means choosing nutrients for nutritional purposes.”

How important is the formula of an amino acid supplement in regard to effectiveness?

“Although there are specific formulas according to purpose-for athletes or for postmenopausal women, for example-a product containing the essential amino acids is good for everyone, because the machinery for protein synthesis is more or less always the same. What changes is the anabolic demand. Some formulations, however, seem to work better than others, not so much because they differ in the type of amino acids but because they also contain so-called boosters, which are molecules that give a boost to the activity of the mitochondria (the power plants of cells) and the cells themselves. For example, Amino-ther, the product we have developed at Professional Dietetics, contains citric acidsuccinic acid, or malic acid, which are intermediate molecules in the Krebs cycle, a series of biochemical reactions that take place within the mitochondria and lead to energy production in the form of ATP. Similar formulas appear to further improve cellular activity, measured in terms of oxygen consumption, which increases by 60 percent. In general, 10 grams of amino acids is equivalent to about 20 grams of protein, in terms of efficiency for the mitochondrion.”

A product containing the essential amino acids is good for everyone. There are no risks because, even when used in large quantities, no hepatic and/or renal load is caused

Are human studies being conducted to verify the effects of amino acid supplementation?

“Certainly, and on different categories of people. Clinical studies in the elderly have already shown how amino acid supplementation improves cognitive and motor performance. In addition, clinical research has noted how amino acid supplementation in the elderly increases the number and efficiency of mitochondria in polymorphonuclear cells (macrophages). Other studies, still preliminary and in animal models, however, have observed an effect of amino acid supplementation on the intestinal microbiota, which appears to rejuvenate: in elderly animals fed a diet supplemented with amino acids, the composition of intestinal bacterial species is more similar to that of younger animals.Research has also been conducted on amino acid supplementation in obese people undergoing a dietary regimen, as well as in anorexic peoplehead and neck cancer patients, dialysis patients, and patients with kidney disorders.There is, finally, a branch of research that is concerned with studying the effect of amino acid supplementation in patients with Parkinson’s disease. The challenge for now is to determine the best dosage of supplementation, the one that allows benefit without increasing L-dopa administration.”
Alessandro Orlandini was born in Turin in 1947. He holds a degree in Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Technology (Turin, 1971), a degree in Medicine and Surgery (Brescia, 1989) and a specialization in Clinical Biochemistry (Parma, 1976). Between the 1970s and 1990s he worked at Diasorin (formerly Sorin), Spedali Civili di Brescia, GSK Research Center (formerly Sclavo) and Technogenetics. Since then he has been Medical Director of companies in the field of Complementary Medicine and Nutrition, such as: Guna (1990-2000), Named (2000-2012), Professional Dietetics (2012 – present). He is the author of more than 20 publications indexed on Pubmed. In 1996 he was awarded the Reckeweg Prize, an international recognition for research in homeopathy, for a project carried out in collaboration with CNR Pavia.

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