When it comes to aging, there’s one thing we know for sure—it happens. As for the exact mechanisms behind it, there are many theories. One theory is that our genes determine our longevity and how the aging process plays out in our lives. Other aging experts believe aging is the result of accumulated DNA and cellular damage over time—all those UV rays, free radicals, and destructive oxygen compounds taking their toll on skin, heart, brain, and overall health. Chances are, there are myriad contributors to aging. And there are also many preventative measures we can take to protect against accelerated aging and improve quality of life into our golden years. Nutritive support with anti-aging amino acids is one of the top ways to ensure you remain vital and vibrant as you grow older.
How Anti-Aging Amino Acids Rejuvenate Your Skin, Connective Tissues, and More
Often, the skin is the first place where unwanted signs of aging appear. Aging shows up on the skin first as fine lines, then as wrinkles. As we approach our 30s, our skin becomes drier. In our 40s, the aging process can begin to accelerate. Not only can your skin become markedly thinner while losing firmness and elasticity, but you may also begin to experience hair loss, thinning and weakening of the nails, and degradation of the connective tissue that allows your joints to function.
Anti-aging amino acids can help maintain smoothness and elasticity of the skin, strengthen connective tissue, and keep nails strong and hair lush.
The Relationship Between Collagen and Amino Acids
Before delving into the specifics of how each of these amino acids can help you grow older gracefully, let’s explore the relationship between collagen and amino acids, which is central to their anti-aging properties.
Amino acids form the protein collagen. Collagen makes up our bones, tendons, cartilage, connective tissues, and skin. It’s what keeps wrinkles away and, alongside elastin, supports skin elasticity.
When collagen production tapers off, as it does with age, our skin sags and succumbs to wrinkles, our joints and ligaments become less pliable and more stiff and sore, and our hair starts to thin. Certain amino acids can help increase collagen production, which in turn can suppress unwanted symptoms of aging.
While several amino acids are involved in boosting collagen production, glycine and proline are the two amino acids that make up collagen (along with the amino acid derivative hydroxyproline made from proline and lysine). Together, glycine and proline account for two-thirds of collagen protein. However, proline and glycine are nonessential amino acids that are rarely limiting for collagen synthesis. The limiting amino acid is the amino acid that is in shortest supply in relation to need. The rate of protein synthesis—how much collagen can be produced—is limited to the availability of the least abundant amino acid. Typically, the essential amino acids are rate limiting, even when they comprise a relatively small amount of the total amino acids in the protein.
Our Paleothic ancestors got plenty of glycine and proline because they ate pretty much all the components of meat, but these days, we tend to leave out the bones and tendons. Bone broth is a great way to increase your intake of these two amino acids. Bone broth is also a great source of arginine. While it is a good idea to ensure that your diet includes proline and glycine, keep in mind that healthy skin requires an abundance of all the essential amino acids to trigger the synthetic response in skin collagen.
The Top 6 Anti-Aging Amino Acids
Creatine is made from three amino acids: arginine, methionine, and glycine. It is an important energy source for cells and can help stimulate the repair of cells and connective tissue. Creatine also plays a key role in skin metabolism.
As we age, collagen production and skin cell division decline at a steady rate. After age 20, collagen production decreases by 1.5% every year, and from 30 onwards our bodies’ ability to produce collagen and elastin, the proteins that give structure, strength, and elasticity to skin, is greatly limited. Whereas skin cells used to renew every 28 days, by the time we reach our 40s, skin cell turnover happens every 30 to 40 days.
Creatine helps skin cells repair damaged DNA and stimulates cells to produce more collagen and elastin. It also wraps cells in a film of water, thereby helping to shield cells from harmful substances as well as supplying much-needed moisture.
The conditionally essential amino acid arginine occurs naturally in the human body, but production diminishes over time. This means that if you wish to continue to reap the benefits of this powerful amino acid, it can be quite helpful to incorporate arginine-rich supplements into your wellness routine.
Arginine aids in the synthesis of protein and improves collagen production. At a cellular level, it helps cells to divide properly and ensures they don't suffer premature apoptosis (cell death). Arginine also offers a natural way to help revitalize human growth hormone.
Human growth hormone (hGH) is best known for helping the body build lean muscle mass and burn fat. Studies show it can also help elevate bone density, improve cardiovascular health, and boost collagen production in those with deficient levels. Increased levels of human growth hormone can be a boon for those who wish to preserve the youthful appearance of their skin, as research indicates it can increase skin elasticity and reduce the appearance of fine lines and age spots.
Human growth hormone injections are a mainstream medicine approach to increasing hGH levels, but they are expensive, inconvenient, and many experts recommend against the use of this synthetic approach as an anti-aging treatment.
Arginine acts as an hGH secretagogue, which is a substance that triggers the pituitary gland to release more human growth hormone. According to a 2010 scientific review published in the Journal of Advanced Research: "The demonstrated anti-aging benefits of L-Arginine show greater potential than any pharmaceutical or nutraceutical agent ever previously discovered."
Lysine, an essential amino acid that we must get from our diet, functions as a foundational building block for many of the proteins that make up the muscles and other internal structures. Because it's not naturally produced by the human body, lysine must be obtained from a balanced diet or from supplements.
Lysine is arguably one of the most essential components in any nutrient-based approach to growing older healthily as it works to combat both internal and external damage associated with the aging process.
By ensuring adequate lysine intake, we increase the body’s production of carnitine, a specialized amino acid that plays a vital role in energy production by converting fatty acids to usable energy forms. In doing so, it helps lower cholesterol levels and stimulate collagen production. Lysine also contributes to the production of elastin, which alongside collagen, keeps skin looking firm and fresh.
High levels of arginine, however, may lower lysine levels in the body because the two aminos share common pathways, which is why taking arginine supplements can lead to unwanted side effects. When taking anti-aging amino acid supplements, it’s crucial to supplement with a complete essential amino acid formula that maintains the balance of amino acids in the blood. Working together in an appropriate balance, arginine and lysine have been shown to boost human growth hormone levels.
Glutamine, a nonessential amino acid, is the most abundant amino acid in the human body. A multitude of health benefits can be attributed to glutamine, including forming the cells that line the small intestine as well as those that form the immune system, contributing to the production of other amino acids, and functioning as metabolic fuel to power cells throughout the human body. As with arginine, however, glutamine production naturally declines with age, making supplementation beneficial. Increasing your glutamine intake can also help you weather periods of stress, during which the body craves more glutamine.
Glutamine gives skin its strength, elasticity, and firmness, and when levels start to diminish, skin starts to sag and wrinkle. By eating a glutamine-rich diet—plenty of kale, plain yogurt, walnuts, fish, turkey, spinach, lima beans, and whey protein—you can promote flexible, strong muscle tissue and skin. If you’re not getting enough glutamine, your body will take it from muscle and skin tissues.
If the load of your diet is meat or you drink a lot of coffee or smoke, you may be suffering from an acid imbalance, which can harm cells and tissues. Glutamine can help regulate the acid-base balance of your body by flushing out poisonous ammonia that is a byproduct of the kidneys’ filtering process. Glutamine lends a proton to an ammonia molecule. An acid is neutralized and an alkalizing bicarbonate is preserved.
Though alanine, a nonessential amino acid, can be readily synthesized by the human body, adding supplemental alanine can increase the anti-aging benefits you experience.
Alanine helps to clear toxins released by muscle protein breakdown from the bloodstream, regulates glucose and cholesterol levels, and serves as an important energy source for the muscles and central nervous system. It's second only to glutamine when it comes to concentrations in the blood.
The primary anti-aging benefits of alanine have to do with its ability to interfere with the glycation process. This process damages collagen, so by disrupting it, alanine protects the body's natural stores of collagen.
Alanine also supports the process by which muscle tissue rebuilds itself, reduces fatigue, and improves sugar metabolism.
Cysteine is a nonessential amino abundant in beta-keratin, a major protein that makes up your hair, skin, and nails. Beta-keratin, in turn, is a rich source of sulfur. Connective tissue and cartilage depend on sulfur bonds for structure and stability. We’ve already explained how age decreases flexibility and firmness in skin and joints, and a lack of sulfur is a common culprit in these age-related symptoms.
One of the most important roles of cysteine is as a component of the antioxidant glutathione, which is used throughout the body to neutralize free radicals, diminish oxidative stress, and protect the immune system.