Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): Symptoms and Natural Remedies

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder occurring in women of reproductive age. Early PCOS diagnosis and treatment are the best ways to prevent this condition from affecting your health and quality of life. Know PCOS symptoms so you can get the treatment you need to reclaim your health.

A hormonal disorder, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) may cause women to suffer numerous unpleasant symptoms, including infrequent or long-lasting periods, higher androgen levels, and impaired ovarian function. Common signs of this condition include acne, weight gain, hair loss, thinning hair, or unwanted hair on the body or face.

A women’s health issue of increasing prevalence, PCOS affects a shocking 10% of women of childbearing age. Unfortunately, people know little about PCOS, and many women don’t even know they have it. One study out of the United Kingdom showed that nearly 70% of the 728 women studied did not know they had PCOS.

Early PCOS diagnosis and treatment are the best ways to prevent this condition from affecting your health and quality of life. Know PCOS symptoms so you can get the treatment you need to reclaim your health.

The Ins and Outs of PCOS

The ovaries are the female reproductive organs that produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone that control the menstrual cycle. The ovaries also produce androgens, which are a type of male hormone, but in a small amount.

Every month during ovulation, the ovaries release eggs for fertilization by sperm. Ovulation is regulated by follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which tells the ovaries to produce a follicle to surround the egg, and luteinizing hormone (LH), which tells the ovaries to release the egg.

Women with PCOS develop small, fluid filled sacs, or follicles, inside the ovaries that contain immature eggs not ripe enough for ovulation. And if ovulation doesn’t occur, hormone balance is disrupted. Estrogen and progesterone levels dip way down and androgen levels shoot way up. These extra male hormones interfere with the menstrual cycle, which is why infrequent periods are a primary marker of PCOS.

What Causes PCOS

We know that high levels of androgens stop the ovaries from releasing mature eggs and producing an adequate balance of female hormones, but we don’t know the exact causes behind PCOS. Still, there are theories, namely that excess production of male hormones and PCOS might be brought on by genes, insulin resistance, inflammation, or a combination of all three.

  • Genes: While research shows PCOS has a genetic component, it is likely the result of several genes rather than just one.
  • Insulin resistance: With approximately 70% of PCOS patients also having insulin resistance, the link between the two conditions is pretty solid. A resistance to insulin triggers the body to make more insulin…and excess insulin causes the body to produce more androgens. Obesity is the primary driver for insulin resistance.
  • Inflammation: Levels of inflammation are higher in women with PCOS, and research suggests that increased insulin leads to higher levels of male hormones.

PCOS Symptoms to Know

Occurring in women of reproductive age, PCOS manifests symptoms typically in concurrence with the first menstrual period. However, women may also get PCOS later in life as a result of weight gain. Here are some of the principal symptoms of PCOS:

  • Irregular or infrequent periods: Long-lasting, infrequent, or irregular periods are common PCOS signs. If you have fewer than nine periods a year, you might want to consider getting tested. Because the uterine lining builds up for a longer period of time, you may bleed heavier and longer than usual.
  • Elevated androgen levels: Women with PCOS often have high levels of the male hormone androgen, which can lead to physical symptoms like excess facial hair, body hair, acne, skin tags, dark patches of skin, thinning hair, and pattern baldness.
  • Polycystic ovaries: The ovaries are often enlarged and contain follicles around the eggs, a condition that can affect function.

In some cases, polycystic ovary syndrome causes relatively mild symptoms and has a minimal effect on daily life. However, the disorder can lead to more serious side effects and health problems, including infertility and premature birth, gestational or type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, metabolic syndrome, sleep apnea, depression and mood swings, and endometrial cancer. To that end, early diagnosis of PCOS is crucial to protecting your long-term health.

Diagnosing PCOS

A visit to your health care provider is in order if you…

  • Have skipped periods and aren’t pregnant
  • Are noticing signs of PCOS, like hair growth in unusual places and hair loss on your head
  • Have been unable to get pregnant after a year or more of trying
  • Have noticed diabetes red flags, such as vision impairment, unexplained weight loss, or extreme thirst or hunger

While there’s no definitive test for PCOS, doctors typically make a diagnosis based on a variety of factors and criteria. If you think you may be suffering from the condition, your physician may perform a pelvic exam to assess the health of your reproductive organs and look for abnormalities. He or she may also assess your physical condition for excessive hair growth and the presence of acne.

Blood tests are a common element of PCOS testing. Doctors analyze hormone levels to look for menstrual and androgen abnormalities. They may also measure glucose and cholesterol levels and perform an ultrasound to examine the ovaries and the thickness of the uterine lining.

Once a diagnosis has been made, you and your doctor can work together to determine the best course of treatment.

Treatment of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Lifestyle changes are a common first treatment for polycystic ovary syndrome. If you’ve recently been diagnosed with the condition, your doctor may suggest you lose weight by exercising and following a low-calorie diet. In some cases, losing a percentage of one’s body weight can have a positive effect on health and PCOS symptoms and boost fertility. This informative article explains how simply adding essential amino acids to your diet can help boost your metabolism and supercharge weight loss.

If these PCOS remedies aren’t enough to improve symptoms, your condition may require medication. Birth control pills that contain both estrogen and progestin can help reduce androgen production and regulate hormones, thereby limiting bleeding and other unpleasant side effects of the condition. Patients who prefer not to take pills can opt for a skin patch or vaginal ring instead.

Additionally, PCOS patients may benefit from progestin therapy. This treatment can help regulate menstrual periods and guard against endometrial cancer.

Effective PCOS Natural Remedies

Natural remedies can go a long way toward alleviating PCOS symptoms and improving quality of life. Along with cutting calories, including more anti-inflammatory foods in one’s diet can boost wellness. Some of the best foods for PCOS patients include fruits and veggies, salmon, nuts and seeds, avocados, and olive oil.

Scientists are starting to examine the connection between PCOS and amino acids. Building blocks of protein, amino acids can be helpful in alleviating PCOS symptoms such as insulin resistance and problems with weight loss. In particular, the amino acid N-acetylcystine (NAC) reportedly protects against free radical damage and supports a healthy immune system.

According to a study in the European Journal of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology, women who received NAC or another amino acid supplement 3 times a day for 24 weeks saw significant reductions in PCOS symptoms like excess hair growth and menstrual irregularity compared to those who received a placebo. Further studies involving Clomid and NAC demonstrated an improvement in ovulation and pregnancy rates among women with this condition.

Single amino acid therapy can, however, produce unwanted side effects. Your body is designed to keep amino acid concentrations in the blood stable. If the levels of a single amino acid are increased, it affects the optimal concentrations of others. Likewise, some amino acids act as precursors for brain neurotransmitters, and they hitch a ride on the same transporters to cross the blood-brain barrier. If there is more of one amino acid than another, then levels of associated neurotransmitters will drop off substantially and affect mind and mood. For this reason, it’s recommended to always supplement with a balanced and complete mixture of all the essential amino acids to keep the concentration of amino acids in the blood stable.

It may take time and effort to find the right PCOS treatment for you. However, with a little luck and some health management, you will eventually be on the road to recovery.

Amino Acids for the Heart: How Amino Acids Help Lower Blood Pressure

A growing number of recent studies are suggesting that amino acids just might be the new indispensable addition to a heart-healthy lifestyle. In this article, we’re going to explore these latest findings and discuss how amino acids for the heart may be just what the doctor ordered.

According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular diseases affect almost half of all adults in the United States. Moreover, more Americans die of heart disease each year than of any other cause. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that approximately half of all adults in the United States have at least one of the three main risk factors for heart disease. These alarming statistics certainly call for serious action. But beyond the usual—and quite appropriate—recommendations for eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and not smoking, a growing number of recent studies are suggesting that amino acids just might be the new indispensable addition to a heart-healthy lifestyle. In this article, we’re going to explore these latest findings and discuss how amino acids for the heart may be just what the doctor ordered.

Blood Pressure and Heart Disease

According to the CDC, the three key risk factors for cardiovascular disease are high cholesterol, smoking, and high blood pressure.

Elevated blood pressure, or hypertension, contributes to the development of heart disease by narrowing the blood vessels, which in turn decreases blood flow and causes the heart to have to work harder to pump blood out to the body.

Over time, this increased stress can raise the risk of a number of heart-related consequences, including cardiovascular events like angina (severe chest pain) and myocardial infarction (heart attack) as well as:

  • Coronary artery disease
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy
  • Stroke
  • Heart failure
  • Kidney disease
  • Vision loss
  • Sexual dysfunction

However, studies have found that by lowering blood pressure a mere 5 millimeters of mercury diastolic—the bottom number in a blood pressure reading, corresponding to the relaxation phase of the heartbeat—an individual’s risk of having a stroke goes down by approximately 34% and their risk of ischemic heart disease by 21%.

Blood Pressure and Amino Acids for the Heart

Amino acids are known as the building blocks of life because they combine in a myriad of ways to form all the protein found in our bodies. And protein is not only the second most abundant substance in the body after water but is also involved in regulating almost every biochemical reaction required for survival.

Eleven of the 20 amino acids we require for life are called nonessential amino acids, as the body can (usually) manufacture them on its own. However, the other nine are called essential amino acids because we must get them from our daily protein intake.

Branched-Chain Amino Acids

As mentioned, more and more studies have found a link between amino acids and improved cardiac function. What’s more, levels of amino acids in the body may even act as important biomarkers of overall health.

For example, a 2016 study found that higher intakes of the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) isoleucine, leucine, and valine are associated with a lower incidence of high blood pressure, inflammation, and insulin resistance—another risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

This latter finding is especially interesting, as some researchers have hypothesized a link between BCAAs and insulin resistance and, in turn, the development of type 2 diabetes. However, this study is one of many that’s instead demonstrated that supplementing with BCAAs can actually improve insulin sensitivity.

In addition, multiple studies have found that disorders of amino acid metabolism that affect an individual’s ability to properly metabolize BCAAs may be offset by ingesting BCAAs with other nutrients.

Whey protein, for example, contains both BCAAs and a substance called lactokinin, which helps blood vessels relax by acting as a natural angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor.

Good food sources of BCAAs include:

  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts

Arginine and Citrulline

One of the standout amino acids for heart health is arginine, or L-arginine. This conditionally essential amino acid acts as a precursor of nitric oxide—a potent vasodilator that helps blood vessels relax and improves circulation throughout the body.

In fact, a 2010 study found that supplementing with L-arginine helps improve blood flow throughout the body by decreasing systolic blood pressure and increasing elasticity of blood vessel walls.

The amino acid citrulline also acts as a precursor of nitric oxide, as it converts to arginine in the kidneys. Interestingly, it also takes longer for the body to metabolize citrulline, which leads to even higher blood levels of arginine than those seen when taking arginine supplements. For this reason, citrulline may be even more effective for increasing levels of arginine in the blood.

Good dietary sources of arginine and citrulline include:

  • Meat
  • Beans
  • Onions
  • Watermelon
  • Dark chocolate
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Spirulina
  • Nuts

Carnitine

The amino acid carnitine helps transport fatty acids into the mitochondria—the energy centers of the cells (the production of which, incidentally, is stimulated by the BCAA leucine). Fatty acids are the main fuel used by the mitochondria for creating the primary form of energy used by the cells—adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

However, if the body doesn’t have enough carnitine, the production of ATP from fatty acids won’t occur at maximal capacity. And the heart muscle’s preferred form of energy comes from these long-chain fatty acids.

In addition, carnitine helps eliminate toxins from the mitochondria and provides a protective effect against oxidative stress by acting as a powerful antioxidant. And carnitine may also increase nitric oxide production.

A 2009 study found that participants who received carnitine (in the form of the dietary supplement acetyl-L-carnitine) experienced decreases in systolic blood pressure ranging from 5.4% to 6.2%—results that were thought to be related to increases in a protein known to have a positive effect on nitric oxide levels.

Another study from the same year demonstrated that a combination of alpha-lipoic acid and acetyl-L-carnitine was associated with a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure in participants with systolic blood pressures that were already higher than average as well as those with insulin resistance.

It’s important to note that most people usually don’t require supplemental carnitine, as it tends to be synthesized in sufficient quantities from the amino acids lysine and methionine.

However, in people who are truly deficient, it can be difficult to get enough additional lysine and methionine in the diet to have a significant impact on carnitine production. In cases such as these, carnitine supplementation is the most effective way to increase availability of this important amino acid.

Rich food sources of carnitine include:

  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Dairy products
  • Beans
  • Avocados

Glycine

Glycine is a nonessential amino acid that’s probably best known for its role in building and maintaining collagen. In fact, it’s the most abundant amino acid in collagen, which itself is the most abundant type of protein in the body. Moreover, glycine is known to protect against oxidative stress by helping the body make glutathione—the so-called master antioxidant.

And studies have found that glycine’s involvement in the formation of both collagen and glutathione also makes it effective in the treatment of blood pressure.

For example, a 2006 study on rats found that glycine supplementation helped lower blood pressure via its role in collagen and glutathione production and by increasing circulating levels of nitric oxide. A 2013 human study revealed similar findings, demonstrating a significant decrease in systolic blood pressure in men who supplemented with glycine.

Good dietary sources of glycine include:

Taurine

Taurine is the most abundant, semi-essential, sulfur-containing amino acid in the body. It’s known to promote cardiovascular health and guard against insulin resistance and has been shown to protect against heart failure in studies performed on animals.

In addition, studies have demonstrated a link between higher levels of taurine and decreased risk of death from heart disease as well as lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

A 2011 study found that taurine inhibits inflammation and oxidative stress and increases production of nitric oxide, leading to a positive effect on both blood pressure and arterial elasticity.

Another study from the same year, this time on rats, demonstrated that a combination of taurine supplementation and exercise can prevent hypertension and increase exercise capacity.

Finally, a 2016 study found that taurine supplementation in prehypertensive individuals—particularly those with high-normal blood pressure—effectively reduces blood pressure and improves vascular function.

Rich food sources of taurine include:

  • Dark poultry meat
  • Scallops
  • Mussels
  • Clams

Amino Acids and Balance

Before you run out and look for an amino acid supplement to assist with heart health, it’s important to remember that amino acids provide the most benefits when used as part of a balanced formula that contains all nine essential amino acids—a fact that’s been borne out by a number of recent studies.

For instance, a 2015 study of nearly 2,000 women with healthy body mass indexes (BMIs), published in the Journal of Nutrition (J Nutr), found that women who ate the highest levels of seven specific amino acids had the greatest improvements in both blood pressure and blood vessel stiffness.

The findings of this study were so significant that they even led researchers to conclude that amino acid intake is as important for healthy blood pressure and blood vessels as getting sufficient exercise, reducing salt and alcohol consumption, and not smoking.

The seven amino acids found in this study to have a protective effect on heart health were:

  • Arginine
  • Cysteine
  • Alanine
  • Glutamate
  • Glutamine
  • Glycine
  • Leucine

Moreover, a 2010 clinical trial published in the International Dairy Journal (Int Dairy J) found that young adults with elevated systolic and diastolic blood pressure who drank a beverage containing 28 grams of either hydrolyzed or nonhydrolyzed whey protein every day for 6 weeks had significant decreases in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure and mean arterial pressure.

And a 2016 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Am J Clin Nutr) demonstrated that adults with prehypertension and mild hypertension who drank 56 grams a day of nonhydrolyzed milk protein (whey or calcium caseinate) for 8 weeks decreased their blood pressure and lipid levels and had improved vascular function.

As you can see, there’s an abundance of research pointing to the potential benefits of amino acids for the heart. And when included as part of a balanced formula of all nine essential amino acids, these important building blocks of life could prove to be an integral part of a heart-healthy lifestyle.

Amino Acids for Heart Health

5 Natural Cures for ED

Erectile dysfunction (ED) affects approximately 30 million men in America. The condition, marked by an inability to get and sustain an erection firm enough for intercourse, can affect men of all ages. This article covers three natural cures for ED that can help men achieve stronger erections when the cause of the dysfunction is physical.

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common problem that affects approximately 30 million men in the United States. The condition, which is marked by difficulty achieving and sustaining an erection firm enough for intercourse—sometimes accompanied by a lack of sexual desire—can affect men of all ages. And while medications are available to treat this common men’s health issue, these drugs can lead to serious side effects, including erections that won’t go away as well as hearing and vision loss. However, there are a number of natural remedies out there that may work just as well, and without all the nasty side effects. So come with us as we explore some of these natural cures for ED and take a look at how they can help you put a little pep back in your sex life.

ED and Nitric Oxide

Nitric oxide (NO) is a colorless gas produced by the lining (endothelium) of the blood vessels. Although NO is actually considered a toxin, surprisingly, it also performs several important roles in the body, including acting as a vasodilator.

The vasodilation effect of NO lowers blood pressure by relaxing the blood vessels and also improves blood flow, which means greater levels of oxygen and nutrients are able to reach the cells.

Levels of NO can be increased naturally by engaging in activities that improve heart health, like exercise, and by consuming antioxidants and healthy forms of nitrates, such as those found in vegetables.

Keeping levels of NO in the healthy range not only improves overall health but also reduces the risk of developing both vascular disease and heart disease.

If the endothelium’s ability to produce NO is compromised, a vicious cycle can set up in which conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol are more likely to develop, which leads to even lower levels of NO and a greater risk of disease.

What does all this have to do with erections?

A lot, as it turns out.

As mentioned earlier, nitric oxide relaxes the blood vessels, allowing blood to flow more freely. Without this unencumbered blood flow, an erection can’t occur. Moreover, NO relaxes the penile smooth muscles so that the different chambers of the penis can fill with blood and become erect.

ED medications like sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), and vardenafil (Levitra) help improve erectile function by boosting the production of NO. However, these ED drugs also come with side effects that can range from mild to severe.

Thankfully, for those who prefer a more natural approach, there’s a variety of natural treatments out there for ED—so let’s take a look at a few of them now.

5 Natural Cures for Erectile Dysfunction

Improving Sexual Health: 5 Natural Cures for ED

Of the many dietary supplements available for treating ED, several have been shown in clinical trials to be both effective and safe. These are:

  • L-arginine
  • Pycnogenol
  • L-citrulline
  • Panax ginseng
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)

L-Arginine

L-arginine is an amino acid precursor of nitric oxide, which means it helps boost NO levels in the blood. And some studies have suggested that supplementing with high doses of L-arginine can help improve blood flow to the penis, thus improving symptoms of ED.

For example, a study of 50 men with erectile dysfunction found that supplementing with 5 grams of arginine daily for 6 weeks improved sexual function in 31% of participants. All men who showed improvement had low levels of nitric oxide at the beginning of the study, and L-arginine led to a doubling of levels by the end of the trial.

In addition, a recent meta-analysis of 10 randomized controlled trials concluded that L-arginine is effective for mild to moderate cases of ED.

Pycnogenol

Pycnogenol is an extract derived from the bark of the French maritime pine tree. Pycnogenol stimulates the endothelial cells to release more NO, thereby contributing to better erections.

A 2003 study of men with sexual dysfunction found that a combination of L-arginine and pycnogenol was able to reduce the number with ED by over 90%.

Similarly, a study from 2015 found that a combination of pycnogenol and L-arginine led to significant improvements in symptoms of ED. Moreover, participants had increased concentrations of sperm at the end of the study period.

L-Citrulline

L-citrulline is an amino acid that converts to L-arginine in the kidneys. While L-arginine is quickly metabolized when taken as a supplement, the conversion process means it takes longer for the body to break down L-citrulline.

Interestingly, L-citrulline actually causes blood levels of L-arginine to rise higher than those seen when taking L-arginine supplements. Moreover, unlike L-arginine, L-citrulline doesn’t cause gastrointestinal upset.

A 2011 study published in the journal Urology looked at the effects of L-citrulline on ED compared with placebo and found that supplementation with L-citrulline safely improved erections in 50% of participants.

In addition, a study from 2017 found that a significant proportion of men with erectile dysfunction have low levels of both L-arginine and L-citrulline.

Panax Ginseng

Several herbal remedies are also available for the treatment of erectile dysfunction. One of these is panax, or red, ginseng. While its mechanism of action is still unclear, a number of studies have suggested that red ginseng may be useful as an ED treatment.

A 2008 review of seven randomized controlled trials concluded that panax ginseng may be effective for ED, though the researchers recommended that additional studies be conducted.

Moreover, a 2012 study found that a standardized extract of red ginseng was both well tolerated and improved all domains of sexual function in men with mild to moderate ED.

DHEA

In 1994, the Massachusetts Male Aging Study found that men with ED tended to have low circulating levels of DHEA—a hormone produced in the adrenal glands. And a 1999 study concluded that oral DHEA may be beneficial for erectile dysfunction treatment and warranted further study.

In addition, a 2018 review noted several studies that found a positive correlation between DHEA supplementation and improvement in symptoms of ED.

If you’re suffering from ED and considering natural alternatives to medications or wish to augment your current medical therapy, it’s important to first speak with your health care provider—especially if you have other medical conditions. Some dietary supplements can interact with medical treatment for common health problems, so be sure to seek professional medical advice before beginning a supplement regimen.

The Truth About Complementary Proteins

Combine two incomplete proteins together and you have a complementary protein that contains a sufficient amount of essential amino acids. Or does it? Just because two proteins are complementary doesn’t necessarily mean that the combination becomes a high-quality protein. Here’s what you need to know.

If you’re like a lot of people, you probably grew up hearing that certain foods—especially plant foods—didn’t make a complete meal unless you ate them together. The thinking behind this was that eating a meal that included these complementary proteins was the only way to make sure you were getting enough protein in your diet. But is this really the case? Do we really need to practice protein complementation to ensure we’re eating adequate amounts of protein every day?

Let’s explore the answers to these questions and uncover the truth about complementary proteins.

Amino Acids and Protein

All the proteins in the human body are made up of amino acids—the so-called building blocks of life. Although there are more than 300 known amino acids, the body creates all the proteins required for life out of just 20.

Eleven of these 20 amino acids are known as nonessential amino acids because the body can make them on its own. However, the other nine are called essential amino acids because they must be obtained from the foods we eat. These nine essential amino acids are:

  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine

The essential and nonessential amino acids build all the proteins our bodies need by linking together to form long chains, each with a distinct number of amino acids strung together in a specific sequence, depending on the type of protein required.

We must have a steady and balanced supply of all these different amino acids to create the proteins the body must have to carry out its many biological processes—from building muscle to manufacturing brain neurotransmitters.

If even one of these building blocks is missing, protein synthesis doesn’t occur, and protein isn’t created.

Complementary Proteins: Fact or Fiction?

When it comes to protein sources, some are considered complete because they contain all nine essential amino acids, while others are considered incomplete because they’re either missing or have low levels of one or more of the essential amino acids.

For example, foods that come from animal sources—think meat, fish, eggs, dairy products—are considered complete because they contain relatively high levels of all nine essential amino acids.

Contrast this with plant foods, many of which are considered incomplete protein sources because they’re either low in or missing one or more of the essential amino acids.

Complete and incomplete protein

However, the theory goes that if you combine two incomplete proteins, you end up with a complete protein that contains all the amino acids the body needs to ensure sufficient protein intake.

But is this fact or fiction?

Even a cursory search online reveals quite a few examples of menu options based on the theory of complementary proteins. Some common ones are:

  • Lentil soup with whole grains
  • Stir fry with nuts and whole grain noodles
  • Bean burritos with whole grain tortillas
  • Beans and rice
  • Hummus (chickpeas or black beans) with whole grain pita bread
  • Peanut butter sandwich made with whole grain bread

In looking at this list, we’re sure you noticed the one thing they all have in common: combinations of different plant-based foods.

But according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the entire thought process behind the theory of complementary proteins is actually quite flawed, as studies have shown that an optimal amino acid profile is perfectly obtainable by eating a variety of protein sources over the course of a day.

If you eat limited, or no, animal sources of protein, you may feel off the hook reading that bit of information.

However, anyone who eats a diet that relies heavily—or completely—on plant-based protein foods needs to keep one important caveat in mind: protein quality.

Take beans and rice—the quintessential pairing that’s often held out as the poster child for complementary proteins.

Although neither beans nor rice is a high-quality protein food source (meaning they both contain limited amounts of essential amino acids, and the ones that are present aren’t as easily digested or absorbed as animal sources of protein due to the added fiber content), when eaten together, they’re said to provide a balanced mixture of all the essential amino acids.

At least in theory.

For while beans are deficient in methionine and grains are generally relatively high in this amino acid, thus offering us a textbook example of complementary proteins, the combination of beans and rice does not a high-quality protein make—especially when you throw the added fiber content into the mix.

The Incomplete Nature of Complementary Proteins

Building on our beans and rice example, let’s now take a look at the peanut butter sandwich made with whole grain bread.

Like beans and rice, a peanut butter sandwich made with whole grain bread technically provides a complete mixture of all the essential amino acids because the combination of peanut and grain protein fills in the amino acid gaps that otherwise occur if either of these foods is eaten alone.

However, the quality of peanut protein is low, and the quality of grain protein is even lower. Moreover, a peanut butter sandwich made with whole grain bread has low protein density—which means there are fewer protein calories than non-protein calories.

What does this mean for you?

It means that the amount of calories you’d need to consume to get enough peanut butter and whole grain bread to meet all of the body’s essential amino acid requirements would exceed your total caloric requirement for the day.

So, although peanut and grain proteins are, in the strictest sense, complementary, a peanut butter sandwich made with whole grain bread is still a very low-quality protein food source.

In addition, to be considered truly complementary, proteins must have complementary profiles of essential amino acids. Unfortunately, the quality of most plant sources of protein is limited by the availability of the amino acid lysine.

Therefore, you’re unlikely to consume two plant proteins that truly complement one another (though some plant sources of protein, including tofu and quinoa, do contain all the essential amino acids).

And this can become a real challenge for vegan diets—and for vegetarian diets that don’t include dairy products.

However, in contrast to the difficulty of finding complementary plant-based proteins that blend to create a high-quality protein source, a typical omnivore diet that combines both animal protein and plant protein foods can be quite effective.

The reason for this is that while most plant-based proteins are limited by lysine, animal proteins contain abundant levels of this amino acid and are therefore perfectly suited to improving the quality of plant sources of protein.

For vegetarians—and especially vegans—who don’t wish to put a variety of animal proteins on the menu, a practical alternative is incorporating a balanced essential amino acid supplement into the diet to address any imbalances in the amino acid profiles of dietary protein sources.

Such a move can greatly improve the ratio of dietary essential amino acids to nonessential amino acids—without contributing much to total caloric intake. And you won’t need to put as much thought into matching the “right” protein foods to make high-quality complementary proteins.

Furthermore, since an essential amino acid supplement has no non-protein components, its protein density is considered complete. And this can be highly beneficial for anyone lacking sufficient variety in their diet—or, for that matter, anyone interested in simply obtaining the many benefits of optimal amino acid nutrition.

What Types of Protein Should I Eat?

In this article, we’re going to delve into the different types of protein and discuss how much protein, as well as which protein sources, you should be including in your diet to ensure you’re getting the protein intake your body needs to maintain overall health.

Eating an ideal amount of high-quality protein is a cornerstone of optimal nutrition. For while we can survive our entire lives (after infancy) without carbohydrates and carry on for 6 months or more without any fats, our bodies don’t have the ability to store protein—which means this is one macronutrient we can’t live without. Unfortunately, not all proteins are created equal. So, in this article, we’re going to delve into the different types of protein and discuss how much protein, as well as which protein sources, you should be including in your diet to ensure you’re getting the protein intake your body needs to maintain overall health.

The Digestible Indispensable Amino Score

Using a score to rate the relative quality of proteins actually dates back to the early 1970s. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is the official body responsible for ranking the quality of dietary proteins. And what we’ve discovered over the decades is that essential amino acids (EAAs)—amino acids being the building blocks of protein—play a primary role in a healthy diet, protein nutrition, and overall well-being.

When ranking protein quality, scientists must first consider the amount of essential amino acids (EAAs) relative to the amount of nonessential amino acids (NEAAs). What’s more, it has become clear that the profile of EAAs—which is the amount of each EAA in relation to the others—is an integral part of defining what constitutes high protein quality.

The optimal profile is defined as closely paralleling the body’s requirements for the individual EAAs. Moreover, for the protein to be considered high quality, its constituent EAAs must be able to be easily and properly digested and absorbed by the body.

To derive a particular protein’s score, all its individual qualities are put into an equation to calculate the Digestible Indispensable Amino Score (DIAAS). The DIAAS is expressed as a percent of the requirement for the most limiting individual EAA—if you were to eat the estimated average requirement for dietary protein (0.66 grams of protein per kilogram per day) by ingesting only the test protein.

At this point, you may be wondering what we mean by “the most limiting individual EAA.” The limiting EAA is the one that’s in the shortest supply.

In order for a complete protein to be created, there must be a sufficient quantity of all 20 of the amino acids—essential and nonessential—used by the human body for the process of protein synthesis. However, if the body is missing even one amino acid, protein synthesis will stop and protein won’t be created.

Regarding the DIAAS, a score of 100, for example, means that if you were to eat 0.66 grams per kilogram per day of the test protein, you’d be consuming 100% of the EAA that had the lowest content in the protein relative to its requirement. And this means that you’d therefore be consuming more than 100% of the requirements for all the other EAAs.

Some representative DIAAS values are shown in the figure below. As you can see, the higher the protein quality, the higher the DIAAS.

Source of protein graph

The highest quality proteins come from animal sources and include meat, dairy products, fish, poultry, and eggs. Lower quality proteins include many of the plant-based proteins, such as those found in wheat, peanut butter, beans, and rice. These plant proteins are considered lower quality both because they don’t provide adequate amounts of all the EAAs and because they’re not as easily digested or absorbed.

However, some plant proteins, such as those found in soy products and quinoa, contain all the EAAs and are more easily digested and thus have higher scores.

Types of Protein Food Sources

There are a number of factors to consider when evaluating a protein food source. In addition to the protein quality, the non-protein components of the source also need to be taken into consideration.

Take a look again at the values in the figure above. Excluding protein supplements like whey protein and casein protein powder, notice how you’re probably not eating many “pure” proteins. Rather, you’re likely getting most of your proteins from whole food sources.

For instance, when you eat animal protein in the form of, let’s say, a steak, you are consuming a lot of high-quality protein, but about half the calories you’re eating are in the form of saturated fat. And if your source of protein is kidney beans, for example, you’re also eating carbohydrates and fiber. So these factors need to be taken into account when planning your diet.

As you might imagine, protein density is highest in a high-quality protein food source. What is protein density, you ask? This refers to the amount of protein per total grams of the respective food source.

The significance of protein density can be appreciated by looking at the number of calories that must be consumed from a protein food source to meet all daily EAA requirements. You can see some examples of what we’re talking about illustrated in the figure below.

Bar graph of Protein density from a protein food source

In looking at this graphic, you may find some values surprising. For example, a hamburger is the poster child for obesity and cardiovascular disease in the United States, yet the number of calories you consume in the form of a beef patty to obtain your EAA requirements for the day is less than one-third the calories you need if you look to plant proteins to meet your EAA requirements.

Furthermore, the fiber in plant-based sources of protein, while providing some health benefits, also impedes the digestion of the EAAs in the protein component of the food, which in turn reduces the DIAAS.

Whether you look at the protein quality (DIAAS) or the protein density of different protein food sources, it’s evident that consumption of a variety of animal-based proteins simplifies the task of satisfying your daily EAA requirements.

Even so, it’s still possible to achieve adequate protein/EAA nutrition on a vegetarian or even vegan diet, but much more careful planning is necessary.

For vegetarians or vegans interested in maintaining muscle mass or achieving personal weight-loss goals, this planning is especially important because the type of protein consumed will likely come with a much higher proportion of calories when compared with total protein content. And this will leave you with less flexibility for the remainder of your diet.

However, dietary EAA supplements can play a crucial role in enabling you to achieve optimal EAA nutrition. In fact, the DIAAS for a well-balanced EAA formulation is over 300. This value reflects the complete absorption of free amino acids, the exclusion of NEAAs, and the ability to adapt the profile of the EAAs to match the body’s metabolic requirements.

In addition, protein density in a well-balanced EAA formulation is by definition complete, as there’s no non-protein component. Therefore, EAA supplements can be beneficial in all circumstances and can be particularly useful in diets that are otherwise low in EAAs, especially those that limit the consumption of animal-based proteins.

What Types of Protein Should I Eat?

A Personal Reflection on Exercise for Older Adults

As we grow older, physical activity and strength training must be tempered with modifications to keep us both strong and safe. Exercise for older adults should be carefully structured, diligently performed, and supplemented with essential amino acids.

There’s no doubt about it: physical activity helps us age gracefully, increases longevity, and enhances quality of life. But as we grow older, physical activity and strength training must be tempered with modifications to keep us both strong and safe. Exercise for older adults should be carefully structured, diligently performed, and supplemented with essential amino acids.

New to Exercise? Here Are Some Tips!

If you haven’t exercised in years, you might benefit from some help from a certified exercise trainer to develop a program specifically designed for your capabilities and goals. You’ll see benefits from almost any type of exercise, so a trainer may not be necessary if you are otherwise healthy and mobile with good knowledge of the proper form for strength exercises. Just start cautiously and build up slowly. The key to making exercise part of your life is to do something you enjoy. From walking to swimming to tai chi…it all works!

Some of the best types of exercises are those which use your own body weight for resistance, which reduces the risk of injury while still being an effective way to build muscle strength and even muscle mass. Some examples are push-ups, including wall push-ups, resistance band exercises, balance exercises, chair squats, water aerobics, and even brisk walking. Combined with flexibility exercises, research shows these low-impact exercises contribute to better balance with a reduced risk of falls, improved overall physical health, and enhanced quality of life.

Regardless of what type of workouts or exercise program you engage in, it will be necessary to push yourself, both to create the exercise habit and to reach new performance and fitness gains. You are actually in a pretty enviable position, because you should see some rapid improvement as soon as you begin to train. The improvement will be especially dramatic if you couple your exercise with premium essential amino acid (EAA) supplements. And what better motivation to continue exercising than results you can see!

It’s also important to moderate your expectations. Please be aware that at some point you will plateau in your progress. This is a normal part of developing and sustaining fitness. When you hit a plateau, you just need to push harder and increase your activity levels to keep improving. Resist the urge to baby yourself! You are capable of more than you realize.

The key to success is consistency. You have to make exercise a nonnegotiable time of the day. Setting a schedule and sticking to it is the surest way to maintain the consistency that you need.

An Exercise Pro? I’ve Still Got Tips!

If you are an exercise aficionado, you’re starting with the tremendous advantage of being in much better shape than the average person your age. Even so, I’m guessing you still face challenges. The challenges are part physical and part psychological, and the two aspects may merge together indistinguishably. I can relate, as I fall into this group and have talked with many former athletes in the same situation.

When I was young, my athletic focus was basketball. I was even drafted by the Warriors into the NBA. When my basketball career ended, I took up distance running seriously. Although not a world-class runner, I nonetheless embraced the challenge of setting both short- and long-term goals, and I trained hard to reach those goals. Being a scientist, I approached training for marathons methodically. I carefully recorded every workout in detail, including distance, time, etc. I did interval workouts twice per week and recorded every split of every interval. I raced steadily from age 25 until last year at age 69 when I had my hip replaced.

As I got older, I faced the same challenges that all of my friends who ran faced. Injuries became more frequent and it took longer to recover, not just from injuries, but from workouts. What was most discouraging was that, regardless of my workouts, I inevitably got progressively slower over the years. At 65, I was still trying to do the same program as when I was younger, but with drastically less success. I was running quarter-mile intervals at a considerably slower pace than I could maintain for an entire 26-mile marathon when I was younger. Intellectually, I understood that the days of 65-second quarter-mile intervals were long in the rearview mirror, but psychologically, it was much harder to accept. I would look at the workouts in my running log that I used to do and feel overwhelmingly discouraged at the decline in my ability. I could understand why almost everyone I knew from years of running had given it up.

At some point, I decided that I would rather keep running at a slower pace and within my reduced capabilities than quit altogether. This is a realistic modification when it comes to exercise for older adults. I retired the old running logs and started a new one so I could train refreshed. I wish I could say that, all of a sudden, I saw the light and loved running again, but it doesn’t really work that way. I still get frustrated when I’m jogging and someone breezes by me like I’m standing still. Nonetheless, I have made enough peace with my current abilities that I keep plugging away every day. I now take naps after good workouts, as I recognize I don’t recover very fast anymore. I never question why I am still working out—it’s just what I do.

The moral of my personal story is to keep doing whatever activity or sport you love. As difficult as it may be, it’s productive to move past the dismay of needing to play from the forward tees on the golf course when you used to play from the tips, or the disappointment you feel because you can only play doubles in tennis now. The benefits of participation in activities you enjoy trump any of these psychologically “negative” aspects. The social aspect of joining workout classes in the gym or a golf group is a great hack for adjusting to retirement. You just need to let go of what you used to do, and be happy with what you can do now.

Supplements for Seniors

I have found that using an EAA supplement before and after exercise has benefited my training tremendously, especially when it comes to recovering faster. I take a pre-workout beverage that seems to give me energy to get started and sustains my effort throughout the workout. I also take a post-workout muscle support supplement that seems to reduce inflammation and improve my gains in strength.

I have seen firsthand how combining EAA supplements with exercise positively influences body composition. One of the advantages of my line of work as a researcher is that I have been able to measure my body composition on a regular basis for the past 45 years.

When I was young and training twice a day for competitions, I had about 4% body fat. I predictably gained fat and lost muscle with time, despite continued training. At 65, my body fat was 22% of my body weight. Two years ago, at age 69, I started combining EAA supplements with my normal exercise routine. Even with the surgical stress of a hip replacement, I have increased my lean body mass and reduced my fat mass to slightly less than 20%. It is remarkable to have your body composition moving in a positive direction when you are in your 70s! And I entirely credit the regular use of EAA supplements in conjunction with my habitual exercise routine for the improvements in both body composition and performance that I have experienced in the last couple of years. I hope I’ve inspired you to follow suit!

Exercise for older adults helps us age gracefully, increases longevity, and enhances quality of life.

How Much Protein Should I Eat? Your Guide to Optimal Dietary Protein Intake

When it comes to answering the question how much protein should I eat all data suggests protein intake should be greater than the RDA. The RDA for protein is 0.8 grams for every 2.2 pounds of body weight, or 10% of total daily caloric intake. This is the minimal amount of protein you need to avoid losing muscle mass.

If you’re interested in weight loss or improving your overall health, you probably spend at least a portion of your time thinking about the amount of carbohydrates and fats you eat. But unless you’re a professional athlete or bodybuilder, you probably don’t spend nearly as much time pondering your protein intake. However, our bodies are made up of approximately 15% protein, which we need for everything from building muscle to manufacturing hormones and maintaining and repairing tissues. When you really start to think about everything protein does for your health, you may find yourself asking, how much protein should I eat? If so, we invite you to read on to discover your optimal dietary protein intake for overall health and well-being.

The Dietary Reference Intakes

The National Academy of Sciences dietary reference intakes (DRIs) are widely accepted as the most authoritative source for defining nutritional requirements. In fact, the DRIs are the basis for the more commonly recognized recommendations from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) called the Dietary Guidelines for Americans—translated for the public as MyPlate.

The DRIs define the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for a wide range of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) as well as proteins and carbohydrates (but not fats). The DRIs also indicate the recommended dietary intake of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats in terms of a percentage of total calorie intake.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance

The RDA for protein is 0.8 grams for every kilogram of body weight. If we convert that to the English equivalent of 2.2 pounds, that would mean a 175-pound person needs to eat about 63 to 65 grams of protein (or 2.2 ounces) per day to meet the RDA.

However, the average American eats approximately 4 to 5 ounces of protein per day, or about twice the RDA. This may seem like a small amount of protein if you have a 10-ounce steak on the menu for dinner tonight. But it’s important to distinguish the intake of pure protein—which is what’s reflected by the dietary guidelines—from protein food sources.

What do we mean by this?

Even a high-quality protein source like lean meat isn’t pure protein, as it also contains fat and micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. But there are still approximately 7 grams of protein in 1 ounce of red meat, so a 175-pound person can indeed satisfy the RDA for protein by eating a 10-ounce steak. However, there are many sources of protein in the average diet, many of which have less protein per gram than steak.

Nevertheless, if you add up all the protein food sources you might eat in a day, including breakfast with eggs, yogurt, or cereal with milk; lunch with ice cream or pudding for dessert; and dinner with salmon, chicken breasts, or pork chops, you’re still probably eating at least twice the RDA for protein.

And if you add to the obvious protein sources the protein contained in foods like wheat, peas, potatoes, soy, etc., you’re likely eating quite a bit more than the RDA.

Does eating more protein than the RDA suggests lead to health issues like obesity and diabetes? Some health professionals believe so. And research does suggest that too much protein may be harmful for people with kidney disease.

However, it’s important to remember that the RDA is defined as the minimum amount that should be eaten to maintain body protein. In other words, the RDA refers to the lowest dietary protein intake at which the rates of protein synthesis and breakdown are theoretically matched throughout the day.

As for sticking to this minimum, there’s never been a health outcomes study that’s shown that eating the RDA for protein is preferable to eating a greater amount of protein.

Dietary Protein Intake as a Percent of Total Calories

In addition to the RDA, the DRIs recommend that protein intake fall within a certain percentage of total calorie intake. Since all the food we eat is in the form of three macronutrients—carbohydrates, fats, and proteins (four if you include alcohol)—the DRIs committee accounted for the fact that the amount of each macronutrient eaten will influence the amount of the other macronutrients in the diet.

For example, if you eat a high-protein diet, you are simultaneously decreasing the amount of fats and/or carbohydrates you eat. And recommended ranges of calorie intake for each macronutrient were set to account for this interrelationship.

In the case of dietary protein, the DRIs recommend that total intake constitute between 10% and 35% of dietary calorie intake. However, the DRIs also state that there’s no evidence of harmful effects with intakes above this level.

For a person of average body weight with a relatively low activity level, the RDA for protein provides about 10% of the day’s total calorie intake—the lower limit of the range for protein. Yet a diet providing 3.5 times more protein is still within the recommendations of the DRIs.

But a dietary protein intake recommendation with a range of 3.5 times (or more) can hardly be considered a useful guideline. Consequently, we have to accept that the “experts” have let us down—at least as far as giving us concrete guidelines for ensuring we’re eating enough protein.

So we need to figure this out for ourselves. And the best way to start doing this is by understanding the difference between minimal and optimal protein consumption.

Minimal vs. Optimal Protein Consumption

The RDA for protein corresponds to about 10% of daily calories. This is the minimal amount of protein we need to eat to avoid loss of muscle mass. Since the RDA is equivalent to only about 10% of dietary calories, you might consider protein content a minor component of your diet.

But this perspective is missing the boat.

In fact, protein should take center stage in almost every person’s diet. Likewise, there’s a particularly good argument for the centrality of protein in an athlete’s diet in terms of both muscle mass and strength.

More generally—and as we briefly touched on earlier—dietary protein has a central role in the body’s nutritional arsenal against the chronic diseases and stresses many of us deal with every day. Indeed, many of these beneficial effects are related to dietary protein’s influence on muscle.

So the starting point of any nutritional approach to improving physical health and performance is a balanced diet that contains the optimal—rather than minimal—amount of protein.

So How Much Protein Should I Eat?

If you’re still wondering how much protein you need, the scientific data indicate the optimal level is even greater than the RDA of 10% of daily calorie intake.

However, the average American’s protein consumption is about 20% of their daily calorie intake—a perfectly reasonable amount for anyone striving to meet their daily protein requirements.

While consuming more protein may provide further benefits, the total amount of calories from protein food sources makes greater protein intake difficult to accomplish in the context of a balanced diet.

And that’s where amino acids—the building blocks of protein—and amino acid supplements can come in handy.

The potential role of essential amino acid supplementation in achieving optimal daily protein intake becomes even more evident when you consider that supplements provide the active components of dietary proteins without the accompanying non-protein components (carbs and fats) found in food sources. Even protein supplements like protein powders may be loaded with added sugar, calories, and artificial ingredients.

So if you’re struggling to meet your protein needs (a distinct possibility if you’re vegan) and want to build muscle—or maybe you’re an older adult who wants to ensure you’re at least not losing important muscle tissue—you may want to look into supplementing your daily protein intake with amino acids.

Just make sure you look for a formula that provides a balanced supply of all nine essential amino acids. That way, you can be sure you’re getting all the benefits amino acid nutrition can provide.

How Much Protein Should I Eat? Your Guide to Optimal Dietary Protein Intake

Amino Acids for Men: How Proper Supplementation Can Keep You Healthy as You Age

Getting enough amino acids for men is especially important as you age because the body’s ability to use protein sufficiently declines. Anabolic resistance can take effect. The result? Sarcopenia, or age-related muscle loss. There are ways to stall sarcopenia. Amino acid supplementation is key.

Getting enough amino acids for men is especially important as you age. As you may be aware, the aging process often involves significant muscle loss. But it doesn’t have to. Studies show that amino acid supplementation can counteract age-related muscle breakdown, ensuring you remain healthy and vital.

Why Do We Lose Muscle Mass as We Age?

Amino acids function as the building blocks of protein, which in turns makes up your muscle tissue, and muscle plays many important roles in maintaining optimal health. As we age, however, the body’s ability to use protein effectively declines. This can result in anabolic resistance, a biological process that lowers the body’s ability to break down and build up protein.

The result? Sarcopenia, or age-related muscle loss, which sets in after age 30. As sarcopenia progresses, it can result in unpleasant and inconvenient outcomes such as:

  • Impaired athletic performance
  • Increased muscle weakness
  • Decreased mobility
  • Heightened risk of injury

Though scientists have yet to pinpoint the exact mechanism of action that drives the progression of sarcopenia, it appears to be linked to imbalanced muscle protein turnover in which protein breakdown outpaces protein synthesis. Declines in the rate of muscle protein synthesis can be aggravated by other factors, including increased sensitivity to short-term inactivity and decreased sensitivity to anabolic (muscle-building) stimulus, both of which can come with age as well. Together, this can result in significant loss of muscle mass.

Researchers have found that you can lose 3-5% of your muscle mass every decade, for an average loss of 30% throughout your life. Can is the operative word. There are ways to improve protein metabolism and stall sarcopenia. Amino acid supplementation is key.

The Connection Between Testosterone and Muscle Growth

The predominant hormonal response to aging in men is reduced secretion of the hormone testosterone from the testes. Testosterone is the primary anabolic hormone in men, meaning it is the main biological force behind the building of new muscle tissue.

Testosterone has other important effects as well, including a significant impact on sexual drive and capacity. In fact, it’s common for a a reduction in testosterone to adversely impact sexual function (both the level of interest in sex as well as the ability to do something about that interest) in older men.

Understandably, the adverse outcomes associated with testosterone declines make replacement therapy quite popular. Testosterone replacement therapy is limited, however, by the fact that it cannot be given as a pill.

Patches are commonly used to increase testosterone levels, but this method limits the amount of testosterone that can be delivered. While some aspects of testosterone action can be restored with the patches, such as sexual function, the levels delivered are too low to impact muscle growth.

To increase the concentration of testosterone enough to have an anabolic effect on muscle, testosterone must be injected, usually once per week or once every other week.

Furthermore, the use of testosterone replacement therapy is controversial because there’s concern that any existent prostate cancer may be stimulated by testosterone therapy. This fear arises from the fact that the first line of action in the treatment of prostate cancer is often giving a drug that blocks the action of testosterone on the prostate.

Testosterone replacement therapy carries with it serious risk of negative responses, too. According to the Mayo Clinic, potential risks include:

  • Increased risk of developing sleep apnea
  • Acne and other skin irritations
  • Enlarged breasts
  • Decreased sperm production
  • Testicle shrinkage
  • Elevated risk of deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism

Some evidence indicates that testosterone replacement therapy raises your risk of heart disease, but further studies are needed as findings so far have been contradictory.

If you choose to take these risks and receive hormonal therapy, you should still consider using amino acid supplements to bolster its effects on muscle growth. Testosterone acts similar to resistance exercise in that it primes the muscle to increase its rate of protein synthesis. An increased supply of building blocks (i.e., dietary essential amino acids) is a prerequisite to producing new protein at an increased rate.

How to Maintain Muscle Mass and Function as You Age

While it is impossible to entirely stop the process of aging, it is definitely possible to slow the progression of muscle loss.

Eating high-quality protein food sources is key. Pack your diet full of eggs, milk, quinoa, red meat, chicken, turkey, and fish.

Complete and incomplete proteins

Be honest about your ability to consume enough protein to meet your needs as you age, especially if you are trying to build or maintain muscle. In America, 30% of people over the age of 65 fail to eat the minimal daily recommended intake of protein. Furthermore, the quality of dietary protein can also decrease, which is why it’s so important to increase your consumption of essential amino acids by incorporating amino acid supplements into your overall dietary pattern.

Amino Acids for Men: The Older You Get, the More Essential They Become

While essential amino acid supplements (EAAs) can benefit everyone, they are a particularly important component of dietary intake in older people. An EAA supplement can help overcome anabolic resistance, or the inability of the body to adequately build new muscle protein. Further, digesting and utilizing EAAs places less of a burden on the liver and kidneys than eating intact protein does.

What Are the Essential Amino Acids?

Though your body needs 20 different amino acids for optimum nutrition, only nine of those are classified as essential:

  1. Histidine
  2. Isoleucine
  3. Leucine
  4. Lysine
  5. Methionine
  6. Phenylalanine
  7. Threonine
  8. Tryptophan
  9. Valine

These nine amino acids have been deemed essential because, unlike the nonessential amino acids, they cannot be produced endogenously. This means that you must obtain all the amino acids you need from your diet or dietary supplements.

Each of the nine essential amino acids contribute to a whole host of crucial tasks within the body. For instance, the brain uses phenylalanine to produce four highly important neurotransmitters—tyrosine, dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Meanwhile, threonine helps to form structural proteins like collagen and elastin that ensure your skin and connective tissue remain both firm and flexible. Methionine contributes significantly to your metabolic processes, flushes toxins from the body, supports healthy tissue growth, and facilitates the absorption of zinc and selenium. And histidine acts as a precursor for histamine, a neurotransmitter that regulates your immune responses, digestion, sleep-wake cycle, and sexual function.

Your body needs a steady supply of essential amino acids throughout your life, but the older you get, the more important it becomes.

The Role of Branched-Chain Amino Acids(BCAAs)

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are a subset of essential amino acids named for their unique molecular structure. These three amino acids—leucine, isoleucine, and valine—have been found to directly stimulate the muscle protein synthesis process. Leucine, the most powerful of the three, can activate cellular signals that initiate the muscle growth process.

Because BCAA supplementation can also improve exercise performance and speed muscle recovery by limiting muscle soreness, they’re quite popular in the world of sports nutrition. However, that should not obscure their importance for non-bodybuilders who simply desire to maintain skeletal muscle mass as they age.

Studies have shown that in older rats, the beneficial effects of leucine on muscle protein synthesis become less pronounced. According to a literature review published in the Journal of Nutrition, however, this resistance can be overcome by either using larger doses of essential amino acids or doses containing a higher proportion of leucine specifically.

Despite the strong effect leucine has on muscle growth, it tends to be more effective to use an EAA supplement rather than a BCAA supplement. If you’re interested in learning more about the difference between EAA supplements and BCAA supplements, this article by Dr. Robert Wolfe provides an excellent overview of the issue.

For now, simply know that in order for a complete protein to be produced, all the EAAs must be present. Therefore, an infusion of BCAAs alone will not produce the same level of results as supplementing with EAAs. As Dr. Wolfe put it: “The maximal effectiveness of the BCAAs is only achieved when they are taken along with the other six EAAs.”

5 Essential Amino Acids for Men to Keep You Vital as You Age

Why EAA Supplements Can Outperform Dietary Protein

An EAA supplement not only stimulates muscle protein synthesis but also activates an increased recycling of nonessential amino acids (NEAAs) back into protein. In contrast, ingested dietary proteins add more NEAAs into circulation.

Surplus NEAAs are metabolized by the liver and ultimately produce urea and ammonia, which are excreted in urine by the kidneys. Reutilizing NEAAs in circulation by providing only EAAs means less work for the liver and the kidneys. The kidneys benefit since they do not have to excrete extra urea and ammonia in the urine.

EAA supplements can also help with the problem of insulin resistance so common in older people. One of the characteristics of insulin resistance with aging is that fat accumulates in the liver and limits insulin action as a result. Older individuals have, on average, twice the fat in their livers as they did when they were younger than 30. EAA supplements reduce liver fat in the elderly to the same degree as the most effective medication, and with none of the adverse effects of that medicine. As a result, insulin sensitivity is improved.

Expert Advice on Dosage of EAA Supplements

Research has shown that a dosage as small as 3.6 grams (the equivalent of 20 grams of high-quality protein) of EAAs can effectively stimulate muscle protein synthesis in elderly people, and when taken over time, this dosage can induce functional improvements. Optimally, two doses per day should be taken. In some circumstances a high dose may be considered.

Of course, always discuss with your health care provider before adding any supplements to your dietary plan. If your normal diet is relatively deficient in EAAs (e.g., a vegetarian or vegan diet), then larger doses of an EAA supplement are essential.

If you are exercising, the timing of the ingestion of the EAA supplement should be coordinated with the exercise (typically, taking amino acids before a workout will lead to more pronounced benefits than when taken post-workout).

Take EAAs in the free form with minimal mixing with other nutrients. Look for pure amino acid powders rather than casein or whey protein powders and the like. Mixing amino acid powder into a beverage tends to be the most convenient, but amino acid supplement capsules can be an effective way to consume part of your dose as well.

Amino Acids for Women: The Missing Link to Optimum Nutrition

Everyone’s body needs amino acids to maintain optimum nutrition and overall health. In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at amino acids for women and discuss the difference these crucial nutrients can make to your health and your life.

Amino acids play an important role in everything from immune health to muscle building and cognitive function. Yet many people think of amino acids and amino acid supplements as simply something bodybuilders take to bulk up, not realizing that it doesn’t matter whether you’re a bodybuilder or a couch potato—or a man or a woman, for that matter. Everyone’s body needs these building blocks of protein to maintain optimum nutrition and overall health. In this article, we’re going to take a closer look specifically at amino acids for women and discuss the difference these crucial nutrients can make to your health and your life.

Amino Acids and Health

Protein is the second most abundant substance in the body after water and plays a crucial part in almost every biological process. For example, protein helps build muscle tissue, bones, hair, and skin; it assists in tissue repair and oxygenation; it’s required for making the enzymes that help us digest our food; and it’s needed for both hormone regulation and neurotransmitter production.

And protein does all this with the help of amino acids.

Although over 300 amino acids have been identified, the human body uses a mere 20 to build its estimated 10,000 different proteins. Eleven of these 20 amino acids are called nonessential amino acids because the body can make them on its own, while the other 9 are referred to as essential amino acids because we must get them through the foods we eat.

What’s more, our bodies don’t have the ability to store protein. So when you take this into consideration, it becomes clear why it’s imperative that we consume plenty of this important macronutrient each and every day.

And the best way to do this is by consuming a variety of both animal- and plant-based protein sources—or by adding a balanced amino acid supplement to our diets.

Amino Acids for Women

Regardless of age or health status, every woman can benefit from a steady supply of amino acids.

Not only do amino acids help produce lean muscle and stave off the age-related muscle loss that can lead to sarcopenia, but they can also help burn the abdominal body fat that’s associated with numerous chronic diseases, aid in combating insulin resistance and liver disease, and even alleviate many of the symptoms of menopause.

In the following sections, we’re going to discuss some of the best amino acids for women. But first, let’s talk about how amino acids can benefit women going through menopause.

Amino Acids for Menopause

Every woman knows that the time will eventually come when her menstrual cycles end and her reproductive years draw to a close.

Although menopause generally occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, the average age is 51. But the menopausal transition, or perimenopause, can last as long as 14 years.

During this time, when hormone levels are fluctuating, many women experience a range of irritating—or downright unpleasant—symptoms, including:

  • Irregular periods
  • Hot flashes
  • Night sweats
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia

Yet even after menopause has officially begun—a time that’s often marked by increased feelings of empowerment and a newfound zest for life—and perimenopausal symptoms have (usually) lessened their grip, menopause can bring with it a host of negative health effects, including an increased risk of osteoporosis and heart disease.

While some women opt for hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to counteract the symptoms and potential health consequences of menopause, documented side effects and serious complications, like blood clots, stroke, and breast cancer, have reduced their use.

And this is where amino acids come in.

Studies have shown that supplementing the diet with essential amino acids can improve a range of menopause-related concerns, including:

  • Bone health
  • Muscle mass
  • Body composition
  • Strength
  • Physical function

In fact, a 2015 study found that a greater intake of dietary amino acids was associated with a reduction in both blood pressure and arterial stiffness in women.

Moreover, a 2018 study demonstrated that amino acids help the body efficiently metabolize fats. And one amino acid in particular, leucine, was found to inhibit the accumulation of lipids, which can have a direct impact on the development of arteriosclerosis—the number one cause of heart disease–related deaths.

Even though a balanced supply of all the essential amino acids is important for the health and well-being of every woman, a few individual amino acids stand out for their specific health-promoting benefits.

Branched-Chain Amino Acids

Branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs, are essential amino acids that play a key role in stimulating muscle growth and suppressing muscle breakdown. The three BCAAs are:

  1. Isoleucine
  2. Leucine
  3. Valine

Women who don’t consume enough BCAAs through dietary sources may find it difficult to get rid of excess fat—particularly belly fat—despite their best efforts at weight loss.

Yet BCAAs tend to be found in their highest concentrations in animal proteins, so women who limit their consumption of these foods are at greater risk of not having sufficient quantities of these amino acids to ensure that muscle protein synthesis outweighs muscle protein breakdown.

However, it’s important to note that all nine essential amino acids must be present in sufficient amounts for protein—and thus muscle—to be created. In addition, amino acids work in concert with one another, and an excess of one can interfere with the uptake of another.

Which means, as you’ve probably already guessed, that the best BCAA supplement—and the best amino acid supplement—is one that also contains a balanced supply of all the other essential amino acids.

Carnitine

Carnitine is produced in the body from the essential amino acids methionine and lysine. Carnitine aids energy metabolism, works to prevent muscle damage and fatigue by increasing testosterone production, and revs up the fat-burning process by helping to transport fatty acids into the mitochondria of your cells to be used for energy.

The more fatty acids you burn as fuel, the more likely you are to burn fat and lose weight, which can make carnitine especially useful for combating the weight gain that tends to come along as a natural part of menopause.

Arginine

Arginine boosts blood flow to muscles by increasing levels of the vasodilator nitric oxide. Nitric oxide works by relaxing the smooth muscles inside blood vessel walls, which results in decreased blood pressure and an increased ability of vessels to transport oxygen and nutrients.

As you might imagine, when your muscles receive more oxygen and nutrients, they’re able to work longer and harder. Moreover, increased blood flow helps flush out the waste products produced by physical activity, which can help reduce post-workout muscle soreness.

Lysine

Lysine serves as a building block for many different tissues in the body. Of particular interest to women is lysine’s ability to increase intestinal absorption of calcium, which may aid in the prevention of osteoporosis.

In addition, studies have found that a combination of lysine and arginine can make bone-building cells more active and increase the production of collagen.

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and is the main constituent of connective tissue. It’s a vital component of blood vessels, skin, hair, bone, tendons, ligaments, and even joints. And decreased levels are associated with everything from dry skin and wrinkles to joint pain and atherosclerosis.

The plaque buildup that characterizes atherosclerosis can eventually lead to hardening and thickening of the arteries, which increases the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. However, a recent study demonstrated that increasing the body’s supply of collagen can help prevent and treat this potentially life-threatening disease.

In addition, the hair loss many women experience after menopause may actually be a symptom of lysine deficiency. In fact, a 2002 study found that the main cause of hair loss is actually depleted iron stores in association with suboptimal intake of lysine.

Finally, lysine is also an essential component of a healthy immune system and is known to play a role in warding off certain viruses, including herpes simplex.

As you can see, amino acids play a vital role in the health of every woman. And although the health-promoting benefits of a few specific amino acids may prove especially useful, it’s important to remember that these building blocks of life work together in the body.

So before choosing an amino acid supplement to add to your diet, be sure to look for one that emphasizes amino acids for women while also providing a balanced supply of all nine essential amino acids.

Amino acid cocktail for women

BCAA Supplements: Do They Really Work?

So, you’re interested in supplementing with BCAAs. Let’s make sure you get the BCAA benefits you’re after. To reap the muscle-building benefits, supplement with an amino acid formula that contains the appropriate concentration of ALL the essential amino acids.

So, you’re interested in supplementing with BCAAs (if you don’t yet know the basics about branched-chain amino acids, commonly referred to as BCAAs, I recommend reading this article first). Scientists have found that increased concentrations of the three branched-chain amino acids—leucine, isoleucine, and valine—can result in remarkable benefits, particularly for muscle growth and muscle recovery. Consequently, BCAA supplements are becoming ever more popular. While I wholeheartedly support your decision to try BCAA supplementation, I want to make sure you get the benefits you’re after.

5 Top Benefits Linked to BCAA Supplements

A wealth of research has linked BCAAs to a variety of enticing effects. While many of the effects of BCAAs have to do with muscle building and exercise performance, athletes aren’t the only ones who can benefit from a supplemental dose of BCAAs. In my opinion, these are five of the most exciting as well as the most scientifically validated results of BCAA supplementation.

1. Limit Muscle Protein Breakdown

Many would rank this as the topmost and best BCAA benefit. Leucine, the power player of the BCAA trio, stimulates the rapamycin complex (mTOR) signaling pathway, which produces an increase to the rate of muscle protein synthesis, the process by which the body builds new muscle tissue.

Leucine has an impressive anabolic effect on skeletal muscle, which leads to impressive muscle-building results.

As a study published in the Journal of Nutrition explained, leucine promotes significant changes to skeletal muscle protein metabolism, namely, decreases to protein breakdown and increases to protein synthesis.

According to a placebo-controlled study published in Frontiers in Physiology in 2017, the post-workout ingestion of BCAAs can cause an increase in muscle protein synthesis of approximately 22%.

2. Optimize Exercise Performance

Another reason BCAAs have become such a red-hot workout supplement is that compelling evidence demonstrates they can lead to impressive improvements to exercise performance.

Researchers from the Carnegie Faculty of Sport and Education at Leeds Metropolitan University in Leeds, UK, conducted a study to examine the effects of leucine on resistance training performance for novice trainees. At the study’s conclusion, participants who took leucine showed markedly higher strength gains than those who took a placebo—40.8% for the leucine group compared to 31.0% for the placebo group.

3. Minimize Muscle Damage and Soreness

As if athletes needed still more reasons to adore BCAAs, it appears they can also reduce post-workout  muscle soreness and damage.

The results of a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition showed that taking BCAAs both before and after a workout can lead to significant decreases to creatine kinase efflux as well as muscle soreness. Participants who took BCAAs also recovered their maximal voluntary contraction ability more rapidly than those who took a placebo.

“The present study has shown that BCAA administered before and following damaging resistance exercise reduces indices of muscle damage and accelerates recovery,” the study’s authors concluded.

4. Enhance Weight-Loss Efforts

Recent inquiries into the benefits of BCAAs indicate that they can maximize the effects of healthy weight-loss efforts.

A randomized, double-blind study published in 2009 looked at how BCAAs, whey protein, and a carbohydrate-based sports drink influenced body composition. All study participants (who had a minimum of 2 years of experience with resistance training) completed an 8-week, whole-body training program while eating a standardized diet.

At the study’s conclusion, participants in the BCAA group had decreased their body fat percentage far more significantly than both the whey protein and carbohydrate sports drink groups. According to the authors, this reveals BCAAs can effectively encourage fat loss.

5. Maintain Healthy Blood Sugar Levels

We know that BCAAs make crucial contributions to the regulation of glucose levels. A steady supply of these essential amino acids is a prerequisite for ideal glucose uptake and insulin sensitivity.

Researchers have not yet conclusively demonstrated that BCAA supplementation produces beneficial changes to blood sugar levels, but findings so far have been quite promising. A 2012 study examined the effects of BCAAs on glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity for patients with chronic hepatitis C, a serious form of liver disease.

At the study’s conclusion, the authors found that BCAAs produced a clear, beneficial effect on patients’ HbA1c values, a blood marker that measures the glycosylation of hemoglobin and can be used to give an average of blood sugar levels over the last 3 months.

BCAA Supplements: Do They Really Work?

Whether you’re a bodybuilder looking to mitigate muscle breakdown during exercise so you can build more lean muscle mass, an endurance athlete looking to optimize performance, or just an everyday person seeking to improve blood sugar metabolism and reach or maintain a healthy weight, the draw of BCAA supplements is self-evident.

However, in order to reap the BCAA benefits you desire, you must supplement with an amino acid formula that contains the appropriate concentration of all nine essential amino acids, not just the three BCAAs. Let me explain why that is.

The BCAAs Work Best as Part of a Team

Taking supplements that contain only some of the essential amino acids, such as branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) supplements, has minimal effect on protein synthesis (the process of building proteins, like those that make up muscle), because the synthesis of complete proteins requires adequate availability of all the essential amino acids. I just can’t stress this enough. Further, the many other functions of amino acids in the blood, including the production of neurotransmitters, regulation of blood flow, safeguarding of immune function, and improvement of plasma lipid profiles, are contingent on a balanced composition of blood amino acids.

In theory, the use of a single amino acid supplement may elicit a desired response, but oftentimes, this is not the case. Also, while the targeted response may be positively affected, other responses may not be desirable.

Take a moment to think about the human body at work, all day and night and every day and night. There are a multitude of physiological events taking place at the same time. And amino acids play a role, either directly or indirectly, in nearly every physiological function. Underlying these major functions are countless chemical reactions and the continuous breakdown and synthesis of compounds, all needed to sustain vital organs and life. And every single one of these functions requires a balanced supply of amino acids.

Each amino acid serves multiple purposes and often works in concert with other amino acids. The simultaneous action of amino acids in a wide variety of reactions and functions helps to explain the nutritional value of a balanced mixture of all the essential amino acids. The most important thing to remember is that, although you may be taking an amino acid supplement for a specific purpose, the other functions of amino acids are always in action.

Leucine Alone Won’t Produce the Hoped-For Effects

Let’s demonstrate this with a concrete example. In addition to its role as a building block of protein, leucine activates the molecular processes that start protein synthesis. For this reason, leucine is often referred to as a nutraceutical, because it functions as a metabolic regulator and serves as a precursor for protein synthesis.

Consequently, leucine is a popular dietary supplement, either alone or contained in BCAA supplements. But, here’s what happens when you consume leucine without all the other essential amino acids in the proper composition. Regulatory mechanisms kick in to maintain a balance of essential aminos. So, when leucine is consumed in large amounts as a dietary supplement, the degradation of leucine is activated as the body tries to maintain the normal balance of all essential amino acids.

Even more concerning is that the metabolic pathway responsible for the degradation of leucine also degrades the other BCAAs (valine and isoleucine) at an increased rate. If only leucine is consumed, all three BCAAs deteriorate at an accelerated rate. The concentrations of both isoleucine and valine will fall below their normal levels. The decrease in the concentrations of valine and isoleucine will limit any beneficial effect the increased dose of leucine might have had because there won’t be enough valine and isoleucine available for the production of new protein.

For this reason, BCAA supplements are more commonly taken than leucine supplements alone, even though leucine seems to be the primary nutraceutical of the three. However, even all three BCAAs taken together do not resolve the problem created by an imbalance in availability of essential amino acids, since there are six other essential aminos not being given. As a result, neither leucine supplements, nor BCAA supplements that contain all three, have a demonstrable beneficial impact on protein synthesis.

BCAA Supplements: The Bottom Line

When you consume a large amount of the essential amino acid leucine, you increase the rate at which leucine gets broken down, since the body is designed to maintain steady levels of EAAs. Coincidentally, the breakdown of all the BCAAs (leucine, valine, and isoleucine) is increased because the same enzyme works on each.

If you hope to access the remarkable benefits associated with BCAAs—such as an improved ability to build muscle, decreased muscle soreness after high-intensity workouts, and a higher rate of fat loss, to name a few—you should not take BCAA supplements. Instead, look for a supplement with an amino acid formula that contains all the essential amino acids and has a greater proportion of valine and isoleucine to avoid decreases in their availability.

BCAA Supplements: Do They Really Work?