The Top 5 Best Weight Gainer and Protein Supplements for Muscle Growth

What are the top five best weight gainers and protein supplements for muscle growth and workout support? Find out what it takes to build new muscle and bulk up as you work out.

In order to bulk up and build muscle you must be taking in optimum nutrition. Muscle mass cannot be created without the building blocks of protein (amino acids) and enough fuel for the energy that muscle creation requires. So if you’re on a journey to muscle building, make sure you take the best weight gainer and protein supplements along. What are they, you ask? We have the answers, backed by scientific research.

How to Build Muscle: The Basics

The formula for muscle growth is pretty simple: you gain muscle when the rate of muscle protein synthesis exceeds the rate of muscle protein breakdown.

To activate this formula, you must push your workout to demand new muscle creation, and then supply your body with enough muscle-building nutrients to meet that demand. That means extra energy and protein support before and after your workout, plus enough fuel to minimize muscle breakdown (catabolism) while you sleep.

If your body is lacking in any of the main ingredients needed for lean muscle creation, it will start harvesting other muscle cells for those supplies. It’s like tearing the plumbing out of your house to outfit a guest house: it doesn’t make sense, but what the body needs, it takes, regardless of logic.

But never fear. You don’t have to worry about stealing nutrients from your precious muscles as long as you have the right nutrient intake. Let’s find out the the best weight gainer and protein supplements for you.

The Top 5 Best Weight Gainer Supplements for Muscle Growth

The Top 5 Best Weight Gainer Supplements for Muscle Growth

While many people think they work out to lose weight, it would be more correct to say they’re working out to lose body fat. Muscle is denser than fat, so for those looking to become lean and strong and for those looking to bulk, the goal is actually to gain weight in the form of muscle mass, and there are high-quality protein and mass gainer supplements to help.

1. Milk Protein Supplements

It seems almost too obvious to mention, but you need protein to build muscle bulk. Muscle is made of protein, and study after study shows that protein supplements help exercising adults gain more muscle than those who don’t consume extra protein. These protein supplements specifically include whey protein (derived from the liquid part of milk) and casein supplements for exogenous amino acid support during wake and sleep.

When to take protein supplements, pre- or post-workout (or both), depends on the type of workout you’re doing. How much depends on your body composition and your bulking goals. As a macronutrient, protein should be between 10% and 35% of your daily calorie intake, and researchers suggest between 0.6 and 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day to support muscle growth (calculate your own serving size).

Along with whole food proteins, protein powder supplements like casein (derived from the solids of milk that make up cheese) and whey protein powder can help put your muscle gain over the top. Whey is fast-digesting and casein slow, so taking them together covers all the bases.

2. Creatine

Eating a high-protein diet is one thing, but for real gains in lean muscle mass and overall bulk weight, high-quality protein supplements maximize your muscle-building profits. Creatine is a protein supplement derived from the amino acids glycine, arginine, and methionine. It’s consumed naturally from animal meat and seafood and is one of the most popular supplements for muscle growth and bodybuilding.

Creatine has been widely studied and has proven results in increasing muscle mass, improving rapid energy production (important for workout endurance), and consistently enhancing performance and muscle gain.

Creatine monohydrate supplements have been shown over and over again to be safe and effective at anywhere between 20 grams per day as a loading dose (split into 4 servings) and 3-5 grams for indefinite maintenance of muscle mass.

3. Weight Gainers

What separates weight gainers from protein supplements isn’t a lack of protein—weight gainers are high in both protein and carbs—it’s that they’re specifically designed to be high-calorie supplements for those who have a hard time gaining weight no matter how much they eat. Weight gainers are essentially protein supplements plus concentrated carbohydrates and fats for extra energy and bulk.

Some of the most popular products include:

  • MuscleTech Mass Tech: With 840 calories per serving and 63 grams of protein from whey, casein, and creatine monohydrate, this product also adds the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) for extra workout support. Flavors come in Chocolate, Vanilla, and Birthday Cake.
  • BSN True Mass 1200: The best mass gainers are those with a higher calorie count per serving, and this product delivers 1,200 calories per 310-gram serving. With 50 grams of protein, 213 grams of carbs, and 17 grams of fat, BSN True Mass 1200 flavors include Chocolate Milkshake, Strawberry Milkshake, and Cookies & Cream.
  • Optimum Nutrition Serious Mass: Even higher in calories with 1,250 per serving, this product has 50 grams of protein, 252 grams of carbs, and 4.5 grams of fat in flavors like Banana, Chocolate, and Chocolate Peanut Butter.
  • MusclePharm Combat XLThe calorie content is 1,270 per serving, with 50 grams of protein and 7 grams of fat, in Chocolate Peanut Putter, Chocolate Milk, and Vanilla flavors.
  • Dymatize Super Mass GainerHigher still in calories at 1,280 per serving, this mass gainer has 52 grams of protein from whey, casein, and eggs, plus 246 grams of carbs and 9 grams of fat.

Easily ordered online via Amazon or directly from the manufacturers, these types of pro gainers provide a sort of universal nutrition profile, with protein for lean mass creation, complex carbohydrates for energy and bulk, and fats like MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides) for healthy weight gain.

With so many options available, you can find products with animal proteins from grass-fed, cage-free sources, maltodextrin from non-GMO organic tapioca, and even gluten-free options with no artificial sweeteners for your weight gainer shakes.

4. Exercise Boosters

There’s almost no way to gain muscle without exercise, so optimizing your workout energy and performance is important. Here are a few supplements to boost your workout.

5. Essential Amino Acids

Speaking of amino acids, as we mentioned at the top of this article, there is no new muscle creation without amino acids, specifically the full host of all nine essential amino acids. While many protein supplements focus on the branched-chain aminos, BCAAs are only three out of the nine essential aminos, and if any one of the essentials is deficient, the body starts catabolizing other muscle molecules to get it.

While studies show that BCAAs are indeed critical for new muscle growth, so are the other six essential amino acids, and other studies have found that supplementing with the BCAAs on their own doesn’t show any preferential effects towards muscle building. You need a balanced EAA supplement to truly benefit new muscle growth and bulk.

Gain Muscle, Gain Weight

Alongside whole food protein sources, supplements designed for weight gain, workout support, and new muscle creation can go a long way towards setting you up for success as you work to bulk up. We here at AminoCo are proud to offer a product with all the essential muscle-building amino acids, along with other nutrients for muscle growth, liver health, detox support, and more, all to provide the fitness-minded with the best of everything.

Amino Acids for Brain Repair and Cognitive Function

Amino acids are the precursors to neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin and dopamine, vital for mood and mental health. Even more important, the branched-chain amino acids may be able to help heal the brain after traumatic injury. Find out how amino acids impact brain repair and health.

The neurotransmitters in our brains are responsible for our energy levels, our memories, our moods, our learning abilities, and more. If these neurotransmitters are out of balance, our brains can’t function and our well-being is compromised. A disorder of serotonin levels can lead to anxiety and depression, an insufficiency of dopamine can lead to feelings of sloth and anger, and without GABA to help calm us down, we’re susceptible to panic attacks and stress. Amino acids both act as neurotransmitters and help stabilize levels of neurotransmitters, making them a key nutritional therapy for brain and mental health. Researchers are also applying amino acid therapy to traumatic brain injury. Truly, amino acids play a crucial role in our brain functions and more, and this article details how dietary amino acids for brain repair can help balance our minds.

How Brain Chemistry Works

Our brain cells communicate through a web of synapses. Each nerve cell has pre- and post-synaptic receivers that can communicate with the other cells using chemical signal molecules. Those molecules are our neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters travel through the tiny gaps between cells like untethered astronauts floating from ship to ship in space.

When enough neurotransmitters attach to one cell, that cell relays the signal to the next cell, creating a chain reaction of communication. Once the neurotransmitters have delivered their message, other enzymes come in to clean them up so the nerve cell isn’t permanently activated. The neurotransmitters are either destroyed or reabsorbed, which is known as reuptake.

Balance is key to avoid brain and mood disorders. For example, SSRIs are serotonin reuptake inhibitors designed to interfere with excessive serotonin uptake, increasing its signal strength so that happiness is felt more acutely and depression is subdued.

Any impairment in this process, whether due to imbalance or injury, can interrupt the entire nervous system. Amino acids play a vital role in the neurotransmitter dance. Let’s find out how.

How Brain Chemistry Works

Amino Acids for Brain Repair

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein in the body, making them crucial for creating and repairing muscle fiber. But they also work to synthesize the hormones we need for communication throughout the body, and they are the precursors to our most important neurotransmitters.

The aromatic amino acids tyrosine, tryptophan, and phenylalanine are the precursors for the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine (a hormone that functions as a neurotransmitter and works to regulate blood pressure). The branched-chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine have data indicating that they can help rebuild the brain after traumatic injury. Here’s how each of these amino acids helps to support cognitive function and brain activity.

The Aromatic Amino Acids and GABA

Tyrosine, tryptophan, phenylalanine, and GABA are crucial amino acids that may just help enhance neurochemical repairs and cognitive performance. Without the proper balance of aromatic amino acids, you may experience too low or too high levels of the following neurotransmitters.

1. Dopamine

Low levels of dopamine are associated with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that interrupts balance, movement, muscle control, and other important bodily functions. Too high levels of dopamine have been linked to schizophrenia.

Disruption of your dopamine levels can manifest as a lack of motivation, unexplained feelings of dread or hopelessness, isolating behavior, and apathy towards family and friends. Without the proper balance of amino acids, your dopamine levels may be out of order.

2. Serotonin

Known as the “happy hormone,” serotonin is closely linked to mood and emotion, and insufficient levels can be behind feelings of social anxiety and depression. Serotonin helps shape our perceptions of reality, so much so that most psychedelic drugs that alter those perceptions operate on serotonin pathways in the brain.

Without enough serotonin, people feel unhappy, restless, and can no longer enjoy things they once did. These feelings can be life-threatening, especially in teenagers, young adults, and those going through major life changes.

3. Norepinephrine

Low levels of norepinephrine are linked to depression, ADHD, and low blood pressure. In health care instances, norepinephrine is sometimes prescribed specifically to help treat low blood pressure, but as both a stress hormone and neurotransmitter, norepinephrine plays a large role in cognitive function.

4. GABA

Gamma-amino butyric acid, abbreviated GABA, operates as a balance against norepinephrine, calming the nervous system when it’s time to rest or sleep. Without sufficient GABA, people experience panic disorders and symptoms like rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, sweating, shaking, restless thoughts, and excessive worry.

Human studies show GABA treatment can help regulate anxiety, bringing balance back to an imbalanced brain. GABA can be consumed as a supplement and also synthesized within the body from the branched-chain amino acids.

The Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

The balance of chemicals in an otherwise healthy brain is important enough, but our nine essential amino acids (of which the branched-chain amino acids are three) can also bring beneficial effects in instances of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and cognitive impairment.

Penn Medicine News states, “Neurology researchers have shown that feeding amino acids to brain-injured animals restores their cognitive abilities and may set the stage for the first effective treatment for cognitive impairments suffered by people with traumatic brain injuries.”

What is beginning as clinical trials based on animal models of brain injury may some day help human patients with brain damage from TBIs restore their quality of life just by ingesting the BCAAs leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

Many athletes and bodybuilders take BCAAs as part of their supplement regimen for protein synthesis and muscle building, but for those athletes who perform sports that involve potential head injuries, these branched-chain amino acids may come to be so much more valuable in the area of brain repair.

How to Avoid Brain Imbalance

You can’t predict or prevent a brain injury (outside of wearing a helmet when it’s appropriate), but you can help prevent chemical imbalances by taking care of your gut.

The essential amino acids are so-called because we must consume them from outside sources like our food or targeted amino acid supplements. By eating amino acid foods like meat and plant protein sources, we gain the amino acids we need, and not only do we absorb our aminos in the gut, but we also synthesize our neurotransmitters there too. Up to 90% of serotonin is made in the gut, so if your gut health is poor, your gut microbes imbalanced, or you have a malabsorption disorder like Crohn’s disease, you may be experiencing disturbances to your brain health.

Other than maintaining digestive health, ensuring that you consume a proper balance of all nine essential amino acids is imperative. In fact, our amino acids are so important to so many functions in the body that the experts here at AminoCo have designed scientifically balanced amino acid formulas targeted to help build muscle and enhance liver health, brain health, and more.

Amino Acids: Food for Thought

Amino acid neurotransmitters for proper brain functioning are essential, and new research shows that they may even help restore function after a traumatic brain injury. Stay tuned as science reveals more and more amazing applications for amino acids every day, for brain health and beyond.

What Does Science Tell Us About Amino Acids for Bipolar Disorder?

Nutrients necessary for the production of neurotransmitters—namely, amino acids—can help treat bipolar disorder and facilitate mental health and wellness. In fact, some individuals find that eating a diet high in amino-acid-loaded foods suffices as a treatment for bipolar disorder, major depression, and other mental illnesses. Others achieve more success by combining nutritional therapy with conventional medications like prescription mood stabilizers.

Mental disorders, such as bipolar disorder, account for 4 out of the top 10 causes of medical disability in the United States, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Typically, treatment for these conditions centers on the use of antidepressants, antianxiolytics, and other prescription drugs. While these medications can bring immense relief for some patients, others find they do not fully alleviate their symptoms, or worse, that they cause severe, intolerable side effects. This can result in high rates of noncompliance with pharmaceutical-reliant treatment plans. The risk of both suicide and institutionalization are much higher in patients whose bipolar disorder cannot be successfully treated with prescription medications, making it a high priority to identify effective alternative treatments, such as amino acids for bipolar disorder.

Researchers have found that amino acid supplements can be a valuable nutritional treatment for bipolar disorder, as well as other mental disorders, because the body converts them to neurotransmitters which can produce beneficial changes to brain chemistry.

Before examining the use of amino acids for bipolar disorder specifically, we’ll cover some basic facts about amino acids and their connection to mental health.

What Are Amino Acids?

In the simplest technical terms, amino acids are organic compounds formed from an amino group (-NH2) and a carboxyl group (-COOH). Amino acids link together to form proteins, earning them the moniker “the building blocks for all life.”

Perhaps the most crucial distinction to understand in relation to the different types of amino acids found in the human body is the one between essential and nonessential amino acids. Essential amino acids cannot be independently synthesized by the body, meaning it’s essential that you get an adequate supply from your diet or from dietary supplements. Nonessential amino acids are every bit as essential to your health, however, the liver can manufacture them, meaning you don’t need to think too much about your intake of these amino acids.

Our bodies use amino acids to build the proteins necessary for developing and maintaining our bones, muscles, organs, skin, and hair. Amino acids also actively regulate our nervous systems.

How Amino Acids for Bipolar Disorder Work

The Link Between Amino Acids and Mental Health

The body uses several amino acids either as precursors for neurotransmitters or simply as neurotransmitters, and levels of those amino acids can have a significant, and beneficial, impact on mental health.

If you’d like to gain a more nuanced understanding of the role of neurotransmitters, this article could serve as an excellent entry point. For the moment, however, the key aspect to grasp about neurotransmitters is that they’re the chemical messengers your brain uses to communicate. Studies have shown that increases or decreases to the levels of specific neurotransmitters can cause symptoms of mood disorders such as bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and others.

Given the immense importance of the brain, the body has evolved a multi-layered defense system to safeguard it. One component of that system is the blood-brain barrier, a highly sensitive, semi-permeable membrane that envelops the brain and controls which substances are allowed to pass from the bloodstream into the brain.

Trials done with animal subjects indicate that the use of a substantial dose of an amino acid that either acts as a precursor for a neurotransmitter or as a neurotransmitter results in increased levels of the corresponding neurotransmitter in the brain. This suggests amino acids have the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and directly influence brain chemistry.

It’s important to note—and we’ll return to this idea later—that while an increased intake of specific amino acids correlates to higher levels of specific neurotransmitters, supplementing with a single amino acid will likely not generate the results you hope for. That’s because amino acids work synergistically, so your body must have a balanced supply of all 9 essential amino acids in order to fully utilize any of them, or of the 11 nonessential amino acids.

Prior to our analysis of findings to date on the use of amino acids for bipolar disorder, we want to ensure we’re all working from a shared definition of bipolar disorder.

Defining Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar affective disorder, commonly abbreviated to bipolar disorder, was historically referred as manic depression. It’s still sometimes referred to as bipolar depression. This psychiatric disorder is characterized by pronounced, sometimes intense, changes to mood, energy level, and ability to carry out daily tasks. Some patients experience frequent shifts from highs—acute mania—to lows—severe depression, while others may linger on one or the other end of the mood spectrum for longer periods of time.

Data collected by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) shows that around 4.4% of adults in the United States will experience bipolar disorder at one time or another over the course of his or her lifetime. Experts have found that individuals with bipolar disorder typically have biochemical abnormalities in their brains, including:

  • Hypersensitivity to acetylcholine
  • Elevated levels of vanadium
  • Anemia
  • Vitamin D deficiencies
  • Vitamin C deficiency
  • Omega-3 fatty acid deficiencies
  • Taurine deficiencies

Scientists have found that the hypersensitivity to acetylcholine can cause both depression and mania, while high vanadium levels have been linked to mania, depression, and melancholy. According to a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, correcting underlying nutrient deficiencies can decrease manic symptoms and balance out mood swings.

How Amino Acids Influence Neurotransmitter Levels

Three amino acids have been clearly shown to contribute to the progression of bipolar disorder:

  • Tyrosine
  • Tryptophan
  • Taurine

Tyrosine acts as a precursor to dopamine while tryptophan serves as the precursor for serotonin. Low levels of either of those key neurotransmitters have been shown to contribute to a depressed mood as well as a lower aggression threshold.

A deficiency of taurine, an amino acid that acts directly on the brain, producing a calming effect, has also been linked to symptoms of bipolar disorder. Low taurine levels seem to increase the number of manic episodes experienced by a person with bipolar disorder.

Key Findings on Amino Acids for Bipolar Disorder

While the idea of using amino acids to treat bipolar disorder might sound wholly a part of the realm of natural, alternative, complementary medicine, the truth is, the benefits of the conventional prescription drugs used to treat bipolar disorder may stem from their effect on amino acid neurotransmitters.

According to a study published in European Neuropsychopharmacology, two common prescription drugs used to treat bipolar disorder—lithium and valproate—both cause changes to amino acid neurotransmitter concentrations in the brain that may be connected to their mechanisms of action.

In an article written for Psychology Today, Dr. James Lake, an expert in integrative mental health care, examined the use of amino acids to alleviate mood swings, manic episodes, and other symptoms of bipolar disorder. Dr. Lake highlights the benefits of one particular amino acid, L-tryptophan, which studies have shown to be highly promising. According to Lake, taking between 2 and 3 grams of L-tryptophan up to 3 times daily can relieve anxiety linked to manic episodes in bipolar patients.

Research to date has focused primarily on the addition of L-tryptophan to bipolar depression treatment plans involving the use of conventional mood stabilizers such as lithium and valproic acid. In addition to relieving anxiety, findings indicate a particularly beneficial effect on insomnia and sleep quality. Taking 2 grams of L-tryptophan at bedtime decreased agitation for manic patients, allowing for better sleep. No concerning adverse effects have been reported in connection with that protocol. For bipolar patients experiencing severe insomnia, doses as high as 15 grams may be required—however, such a high dose should only be used with close supervision by a psychiatrist, Lake states.

Other amino-acid related supplement studies show 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) has promise for the treatment of bipolar disorder. The body produces 5-HTP from tryptophan. 5-HTP acts as a precursor to the production of the always important neurotransmitter serotonin as well as melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep cycle. Researchers have found that, thanks to its ability to raise serotonin levels, 5-HTP can alleviate psychological and even physical manifestations of mental illness, such as:

It’s important to speak with a trusted medical expert prior to taking 5-HTP supplements, as their interaction with certain prescription drugs as well as other supplements used to treat bipolar disorder may result in adverse effects.

Methionine, a sulfur-containing essential amino acid, has also been shown to have benefits for the treatment of bipolar disorder. When ingested, it combines with adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to generate S-adenosyl methionine (SAM-e), which has been investigated for its potential benefits relating to the treatment of depression, which is a component of bipolar disease. Per a randomized, double-blind clinical trial published in the Journal of Clinical PsychiatrySAM-e can alleviate depression as well as the popular antidepressant escitalopram (sold under the brand name Lexapro).

It’s important to keep in mind that the actions of a single amino acid are intimately interlinked with the actions of all amino acids. For this reason, supplementing with a single amino acid may not be the best way to access the benefits you desire. For instance, as a study published in Neuropsychopharmacology touches on, the large neutral amino acids, a group that contains tryptophan, tyrosine, and phenylalanine, all compete against one another for the use of the same blood–brain barrier transporter. Because of this, taking supplemental tryptophan can decrease concentrations of tyrosine, which in turn impacts the synthesis of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in the presentation of symptoms of bipolar disorder as well as the treatment of bipolar disorder.

While the amino acids mentioned here, as well as in the preceding section, have the most pronounced impact on symptoms of bipolar disorder, experts in the field of amino acid research have found that the use of a high-quality essential amino acid blend produces far more desirable results than the use of a single amino acid supplement.

Conclusion

It’s become inarguably clear that ensuring a consistent intake of the nutrients necessary for the production of neurotransmitters facilitates mental health and wellness. In fact, some individuals find that eating a diet high in amino-acid-loaded foods suffices as a treatment for bipolar disorder, major depression, and other mental illnesses. Others achieve more success combining nutritional therapy with conventional medications like prescription mood stabilizers.

Scientists have been interested in the role of nutritional therapies like the use of amino acid supplements for bipolar disorder since the 1970s. Unfortunately, securing funding for such research has proved to be an enduring challenge, as the pharmaceutical companies that often underwrite clinical trials see no appeal in treatment options they can’t patent and own. This has led to the dominance of synthetic drugs, despite their known risk factors, such as sometimes intolerable side effects.

Unfortunately, this resistance has carried over to mainstream clinicians, who tend to know less about nutritional treatment options for bipolar disorder, and therefore are far less likely to prescribe them. Some also feel hesitant about recommending treatments that aren’t governed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This can prevent individuals from accessing nutritional therapies that may be significantly more efficacious for their personal neurochemistry than more readily available prescription drugs.

Hopefully, as more patients become independently aware of the possibilities offered by nutritional supplements, health care providers will respond by becoming better versed in how to incorporate those modalities into an overall mental health treatment plan. Already, there’s been an uptick in the number of studies investigating natural and holistic treatment options for bipolar disorder and other conditions, which should help clinicians increase their knowledge base and comfort level with the potentialities of this realm.

In the meantime, outside research as well as the seeking out of medical experts who have already integrated such options into their practice may be exceptionally valuable for individuals with bipolar disorder who have yet to find a satisfactory treatment option.

Glycine for Sleep: The Amino Acid for Better Rest

Glycine for sleep and so much more: find out how this amino acid and neurotransmitter aids your body’s most important functions, and learn how to supplement with it for better sleep quality, vital organ protection, and supple skin.

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, which probably makes you think of all things muscle, like muscle repair and new muscle creation. You do need all nine essential amino acids to build muscle, but amino acids perform a wide variety of important tasks in the body, including regulating your sleep-wake cycle and the quality of sleep you experience. Glycine is one of those amino acids working tirelessly behind the scenes so that you can get a good night’s sleep. We have the details on the effects of glycine for sleep, and how you can utilize it to optimize your sleep patterns.

What Is Glycine?

Glycine is a naturally occurring nonessential amino acid. It is the simplest in structure of all the amino acids, and yet it’s just as important in daily functioning. Glycine is used to make vital substances like various enzymes and hormones in the body, and it’s also used to synthesize new protein, a role it plays in muscle maintenance and growth.

The human body naturally produces glycine, but it’s also found in protein foods and can be taken as a dietary supplement. While glycine deficiency is extremely rare, studies have shown that low levels of glycine are associated with the development of type 2 diabetes, which we’ll cover in a bit.

Insufficient glycine levels may also be associated with chronic sleep problems, and glycine supplements could function as a natural sleep aid.

Glycine for Sleep: Scientifically Proven Effectiveness

Glycine for Sleep: Scientifically Proven Effectiveness

Daytime sleepiness coupled with an inability to fall asleep easily can quickly interrupt your quality of life. It’s more dangerous to drive or commute to work if you’re not properly rested, it’s more difficult to concentrate on your daily tasks, and it saps the enjoyment you should be experiencing when your work is completed each day. Here are some of the scientifically backed data points showing that glycine ingestion could lead to better sleep.

1. Sleep-Promoting

Glycine is an inhibitory neurotransmitter operating in our central nervous system. That means it has a role to play in hearing, vision, motor movement, and our intake and processing of sensory information. By working as an inhibitor, glycine has a calming effect on the central nervous system. The dietary glycine we consume has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, enter our brains, and go where it’s needed.

Perhaps working with other inhibitory neurotransmitters like the amino acid GABA (the exact mechanisms are still not fully understood by researchers), glycine has the ability to help “quiet down” the nervous system and effectively promote sleep.

2. Enhances Memory Formation, Organization, and Retrieval

Memory formation and memory organization are deeply connected to healthy, adequate sleep. One of the other roles glycine performs in the brain is to activate excitatory NMDA receptors, which are keys to synaptic plasticity and the creation of new synapses for learning and memory retention.

Research shows that glycine may be beneficial to memory retrieval in both old and young participants in instances of disrupted sleep, like jet lag or having to work a night shift. Researchers also suggest that glycine may be able to help those with Parkinson’s, Huntington’s disease, and schizophrenia in the area of memory retrieval.

3. Encourages Deeper Sleep

Studies on glycine’s effect on sleep have revealed that glycine ingestion before bedtime improves the subjective sleep quality of those dealing with insomnia. Researchers studied both rat and human subjects, and found the same effects in both, with more information coming from the rat models on the inner workings of glycine.

Glycine taken orally significantly increased the concentration of glycine in the cerebrospinal fluid of rats. Researches noted an increase of cutaneous blood flow coupled with a decrease in core body temperature. A low core body temperature is maintained during human sleep, revealing another facet of how glycine may beneficially interact with our sleep patterns.

4. Calms Anxiety

Studies on glycine for anxiety work closely with serotonin and its relationship to restful sleep. Serotonin is known as the “happy hormone” because it contributes to feelings of pleasure, satisfaction, and well-being. Serotonin is also needed to create the hormone melatonin, which encourages deeper sleep and is often lacking in those with sleep disorders like insomnia or sleep apnea.

By increasing serotonin levels, you can lessen anxiety and promote restful sleep, and consuming glycine has been shown to elevate serotonin levels and encourage healthy sleep cycles, both of which provide much needed anxiety relief.

5. Improves Daytime Performance

A study on the effects of glycine on subjective daytime performance in partially sleep-restricted healthy volunteers asserts that about 30% of the general population suffers from insomnia. Knowing that, researchers chose to test the effects of glycine on the daytime levels of fatigue and sleepiness on people restricted to 25% less of their usual sleep time. They then measured the cognitive performances of the participants.

The results found that those who were given glycine instead of a placebo reported significantly less fatigue and sleepiness, and demonstrated improvements in psychomotor vigilance tests. The researchers also measured circadian rhythms by looking at the suprachiasmatic nucleus (one of a pair of small nuclei in the hypothalamus of the brain). While they found no changes in the circadian clock, they did find that glycine altered specific neuropeptides in the brain, which they suggest accounts for glycine’s ability to improve feelings of sleepiness and fatigue in those who are sleep deprived.

A previously linked study also found that taking supplemental glycine helped people reach slow-wave sleep faster, providing the benefits of deeper REM sleep in a shorter amount of time. This benefit may extend to better mental performance during the day, even when sleep is restricted.

Other Benefits of Glycine Supplementation

The use of glycine in both animal models and human volunteers shows that it has a beneficial impact on the polysomnographic changes in our brains and bodies. But glycine amino acid supplementation can benefit even more than sleep. For instance:

  • Antioxidant support: Glycine is one of the three amino acids needed to create glutathione, an antioxidant that protects the body from the oxidative stress damage caused by free radicles.
  • Collagen creation and skincare: Ingesting glycine promotes collagen levels in the body and helps keep our connective tissues supple and young. Externally, glycine soja oil from soy contains all of the essential amino acids along with vitamin E, and is commonly found in skin conditioning products, beauty supplies, moisturizing soaps, and bath oils.
  • Creatine and workout aid: Glycine is needed to form creatine, a substance you most likely know as a main ingredient in protein shakes that are used to build muscle bulk. Creatine provides fast energy to muscles, making it a vigorous workout aid for any strenuous activity, from weightlifting to sprinting.
  • Liver protection: Glycine has been shown to help prevent alcoholic fatty liver disease and alcoholic cirrhosis.
  • Heart health and blood pressure support: Glycine treatment has been found to improve the usability of nitric oxide in the body, increasing blood flow and lowering blood pressure, thereby reducing the risk of heart attack.
  • Diabetes management: Glycine aids in both preventing and managing the development of type 2 diabetes by improving blood sugar levels and increasing insulin sensitivity and response.

Glycine Foods and How to Supplement with Glycine

“Glycine” comes from the Greek word glykys (γλυκύς), meaning “sweet-tasting.” In fact, the original betaine, now known as glycine betaine, was first discovered in the sugar beet in the 19th century. Glycine in supplement form still tastes quite sweet, and for that reason it is easily added to foods and beverages like oatmeal, coffee, protein shakes, yogurt, and pudding. Natural glycine foods include high-protein options like:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Legumes
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs

Dosages and Possible Adverse Side Effects

When studied, up to 90 grams of glycine can be administered every day for several weeks without adverse effects. However, the standard effective dosage is between 3 and 5 grams per day. It’s also important that you seek professional medical advice before adding glycine or any other supplement to your routine if you are already on medications or if you are pregnant or nursing. Some reported potential side effects of supplementing with glycine include:

  • Stomach upset
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Soft stools

Glycine: Neurotransmitter Extraordinaire

There you have it: glycine is not only effective at improving sleep but also a vital contributor to many functions in the body, including maintaining healthy skin and protecting the liver and the heart. By ensuring that you have sufficient amounts of both your essential and nonessential amino acids like glycine, you can improve your whole-body health.

Why You Need to Know About Epitalon

Epitalon can influence gene expression, extend telomere length, and produce other exciting physiological effects that have what experts call “geroprotective” results. It may be too soon to make definitive statements about epitalon but the findings so far certainly give a justification for further investigation.

Unless you have a scientific background, it’s unlikely you would have heard of epitalon, sometimes referred to as epithalon, epithalone, epithalamin, or epithalamine. If the promise indicated by certain studies on its anti-aging properties prove to be true, however, this synthetic peptide may become a household name.

Research indicates that epitalon is a telomerase activator, meaning it can stimulate telomere elongation. Much of what we know about epitalon comes from the work of Dr. Vladimir Khavinson and other researchers at the St. Petersburg Institute of Bioregulation and Gerontology in Russia where it’s being developed as an anti-aging drug.

In this article, we’ll define what epitalon is and explore what scientists have discovered about its potential anti-aging benefits. But before delving into why scientists are so excited about the effect of epitalon on telomeres, let’s cover some basics about telomeres themselves.

The Link Between Telomeres and Aging

Telomeres cap the ends of our chromosomes and protect our genetic code during cell division. Each chromosome contains the genetic information necessary to keep all the cells in our body healthy and functioning at peak capacity. During cell division, those genes must be copied exactly so that the newly created cells have that same essential information. However, the process of replication always leaves off a small section from the ends of the DNA strands. That’s where telomeres come in. They’re placed at the ends to ensure no vital data gets left behind. Therefore, each time a cell divides, the telomeres capping its chromosomes get shorter. This makes telomere length the limiting factor for cellular division: when they become too short, the cell they’re attached to ceases to divide and enters senescence.

Studies indicate shortened telomeres may cause several adverse consequences of aging and age-related diseases, including increased oxidative stress, cancer, and overall mortality. Some experts have gone so far as to hypothesize that the shortening of telomeres may drive the entire aging process.

Understandably, this has drawn attention to telomere elongation as a possible method for preserving good health as we grow older. Stem cells—a subset of cells within the body with the ability to develop into different cell types (and in some instances, to repair injured tissues)—contain an enzyme called telomerase that keeps telomeres long, allowing those cells to replicate an infinite number of times.

Research indicates that providing the body with supplemental telomerase can indeed be an effective anti-aging treatment, however, it may have seriously deleterious side effects. That’s because cancer cells, like stem cells, rely on telomerase to maintain a ceaseless rate of replication. Experts in the field of gerontology, the multidisciplinary study of aging and the problems that can accompany it, have raised concerns that the use of exogenous telomerase could spur the development of cancer.

Epitalon may offer a way to lengthen telomeres without the same risks associated with the use of supplemental telomerase.

What Is Epitalon?

The discovery of epitalon, a tetrapeptide with the amino acid sequence Ala-Glu-Asp-Gly, was a direct result of efforts to develop safe and effective methods for offsetting adverse effects of aging.

Scientists know that gene expression varies significantly with age, though there are numerous and conflicting explanations for why that might be. A simple and persuasive one goes like this: gene expression acts as a timer for the human life cycle. During our youth, we express genes that allow us to grow. During middle age, we express genes meant to keep us healthy. And when we reach old age, we begin to express genes that cause our cells to shut down.

Gene expression, on a cellular level, describes the translation of our DNA into proteins, the signaling mechanisms of the body. In the 1970s, Dr. Vladimir Anisimov, of the Department  of Carcinogenesis and Oncogerontology, N.N. Petrov Research Institute of Oncology in St. Petersburg, and a frequent collaborator of Dr. Khavinson, began investigating the role of short peptides, which he ultimately learned function as epigenetic signals that both promote and repress the expression of whole categories of genes.

These short peptides, strings of fewer than 10 amino acids, can regulate the chemistry of the entire body. This capacity comes in part from the fact that their small size allows them to pass through the skin as well as through the blood-brain barrier. And unlike larger proteins, they tend to pass through the digestive tract intact.

In a review that synthesized a few decades of data, Anisimov shared the results of his investigation of the roles of small peptides isolated from different organs and tissues, such as the thymus gland and the pineal gland, on the mechanisms of aging. As part of his research, Anisimov also developed analogues of those peptide bioregulators, such as synthetic tetrapeptide epitalon.

The terms “epithalamin” and “epithalamine” typically refer to extracted peptide preparations, while “epitalon,” “epithalon,” and “epithalone” refer to synthetic peptide preparations. As epitalon has been shown to reproduce the effects of epithalamin, we will use that term throughout unless further specificity is required for clarity.

The long-term use of certain peptide preparations led to significantly increased longevity (mean lifespan increases between 20% and 40%) as well as a slower rate of age-associated alterations to biomarkers linked to physical and mental decline. Anisimov’s work also showed lower rates of spontaneous tumor incidence in subjects who received epitalon treatment, indicating that it has anti-carcinogenic effects.

We’ll dig into the specifics of some pioneering animal and human studies on epitalon in the following section, but first, let’s discuss why Anismov focused on the thymus and pineal gland.

How the Thymus and Pineal Gland Affect Your Health

The main function of the thymus, a gland in the upper region of the chest, is to teach the immune cells to differentiate between invading pathogens and the cells of the body. As we age, the size of the thymus decreases, which some have suggested could be the root cause of age-related decreases to immune function, resulting in higher incidences of infections and autoimmune diseases.

In the 1980s, the Slavic researchers whom we have to thank for the bulk of our knowledge about short peptides were focused on the possibilities of a thymic peptide bioregulator  called thymalin which they found could spur the thymus to re-grow, thus enhancing immune function. The use of thymalin also resulted in other desirable anti-aging benefits, such as:

Studies consistently linked thymalin treatment to decreased mortality rates too.

However, the heyday of thymalin was short-lived. In the early 1990s, researchers began focusing on the role the pineal gland plays in the aging process, specifically, its ability to modulate functions of the neuroendocrine and immune systems, which have been shown to decease with age.

Located in a region of the brain called the epithalamus, the pineal gland regulates the body’s sleep/wake cycle, a crucial task that involves the secretion of a hormone called melatonin. A significant moment in the progression of research in this field occurred when researchers used syngeneic transplantation to place pineal glands from young mice into the thymus of older mice, resulting in a prolonged lifespan. Concurrently, researchers were examining the effects of various pineal peptides. One such compound, epithalamin, was found to be a complex peptide bioregulator that could reduce the rate of cellular aging, leading to increased longevity.

Epithalamin, like thymalin, is a short peptide composed of a string of four amino acids. However, studies showed that it could increase longevity more consistently than thymalin, that it suppressed cancer growth, and that it even had a more pronounced effect on thymic growth.

In the early 2000s, excitement about epitalon increased even more when scientists found it could activate telomerase, leading to the regrowth of telomeres. It has now become the most-studied short peptide.

11 Essential Facts Everyone Should Know About Epitalon

Important Findings About the Benefits of Epitalon

The effects of epitalon have been examined in a variety of contexts: in vitro studies, animal studies, and human studies. Findings in all three realms have clearly and consistently indicated pronounced anti-aging benefits.

In Vitro Studies

The most significant work being done in vitro has to do with the effect of epitalon on telomerase activity. According to a 2003 study with Khavinson as the lead author, the addition of epitalon to a human somatic cell that did not naturally produce telomerase induced enzymatic telomerase activity, resulting in telomere elongation. They concluded that these findings indicate “the possibility of prolonging life span of a cell population and of the whole organism.”

In 2016, a St. Petersburg-based research team found that epitalon produced telomere elongation significant enough to allow cells to exceed the Hayflick limit, which describes the typical lifespan for a human cell.

Animal Studies

In 1998, Anisimov and Khavinson collaborated on a study that, as described in an article published by the The Longevity Research Institute (LRI), examined the effect of epithalamin, a pineal peptide preparation, on the lifespan of fruit flies, mice, and rats. They found that epithalamin led to a median lifespan extension of between 14% and 32% longer than control subjects. Interestingly, they also found indications that epithalamin decreased cancer risk.

The LRI article cited above shares further key findings from other studies on epithalamin. Female rats between the ages of 16 and 18 months receiving daily doses of 0.1 milligrams of pineal peptide extract had a 10% longer lifespan than control subjects per a study published in Experimentelle Pathologie. When the dose was increased to 0.5 milligrams, the rats lived 25% longer than controls. Female mice given a 0.5-milligram dose of epithalamin daily lived 31% longer than controls and had 50% fewer tumors, according to another study Anisimov and Khavinson worked on.

In 2002, a team from the Department of Medical Biology and Genetics, I. P. Pavlov St. Petersburg State Medical University collaborated with Anisimov and Khavinson to examine the effects of epitalon on chromosome aberrations related to aging. They found that the incidence of such aberrations decreased by between 17.9% and 30% compared to age-matched controls. The team concluded that these results point to an “antimutagenic effect,” which they hypothesize could be the source of epitalon’s geroprotective abilities. It’s worth noting, too, that the changes observed were consistent with increased telomere length.

Some skeptics have suggested that the lifespan extension benefits associated with various anti-aging treatments, such as epithalamin and epitalon, can more accurately be attributed to incidental food intake changes related to the way such treatments affect appetite. And indeed, fasting has been shown to have an impressive effect on lifespan.

In the case of epitalon specifically, studies with standardized food consumption have yielded the same findings related to longevity.

Take, for example a study published in Biogerontology in 2003Anisimov, Khavinson, and a team of seven other researchers from the Department of Carcinogenesis and Oncogerontology at the NN Petrov Research Institute of Oncology in St. Petersburg looked at the effects of epitalon on body weight, food consumption, and lifespan in female Swiss SHR mice. The researchers subcutaneously injected the mice in the treatment group with 1.0 microgram/mouse of epitalon on 5 consecutive days each month. The control group received saline injections on the same schedule. The results showed a 12.3% extension of maximum lifespan in comparison to the control group with no changes to food consumption or body weight.

Epitalon has been linked to benefits that, while relevant to those interested in remaining healthy and vital while they age, can be quite valuable for individuals of all ages.

A study published in the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics in 2007 looked at the antioxidant properties of epitalon. The authors (Khavinson and two other Russian researchers) found that epitalon produced impressive antioxidant effects, and perhaps even more crucially, simultaneously stimulated the expression of additional antioxidant enzymes such as ceruloplasmin, glutathione peroxidase, glutathione-S-transferase, and superoxide dismutase (SOD). All in all, this translates to a major fortification of the body’s antioxidant defense system.

Anisimov joined forces with a team of scientists from the Koret School of Veterinary Medicine at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Rehovot, Israel to examine the effect of epitalon on cancer growth. To do so, they injected 0.1-microgram doses of epitalon 5 times each week. They found this treatment decreased the number of malignant tumors and prevented the development of metastases. The long-term exposure to epitalon involved in the treatment protocol produced no adverse side effects.

Human Studies

Human studies have also yielded promising results. A randomized, controlled trial co-authored by Khavinson and a researcher named Vyacheslav G. Morozov and published in Neuroendocrinology Letters enrolled 94 women between the ages of 66 and 94, all of whom lived at the War Veterans Home in St. Petersburg. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four groups: the first received a placebo, the second a thymus extract called thymalin, the third epithalamin, and the fourth both thymalin and epithalamin.

Over the course of the 6-year study, 81.8% of the patients in the control group died, while only 41.7% of patients in the thymalin group and 45.8% of those in the epithalamin group, both of which received treatment for 2 years, died. And only a stunningly slight 20.0% of those in the group who received both epithalamin and thymalin for the full 6 years had died by the study’s conclusion. Further, the authors noted that participants who received epithalamin had lower rates of ischemic heart disease as well as improved levels of key biomarkers such as cortisol and insulin.

In 2006, Khavinson collaborated with lead author O.V. Korkushko of the Institute of Gerontology at the Academy of Medical Sciences of Ukraine in Kiev on a randomized clinical study done with human subjects. They set out to examine the effect of “pineal gland peptide preparation”—epithalamin—on elderly patients with accelerated aging of the cardiovascular system, and  found that long-term treatment with 50-milligram injections of epithalamin every 6 months for a duration of 12 years lead to decreased cardiovascular aging as well as decreased overall functional age. Epithalamin also improved participants’ exercise tolerance. Furthermore, mortality in the group that received epithalamin was 28% lower than in the control group.

In a review titled “Peptides, Genome, and Aging,” Khavinson states that treatment with both epitalon and epithalamin resulted in increased telomere lengths in the blood cells of patients between 60 and 65 years of age as well as 75 and 80 years of age. The efficacy of the two treatments proved to be equal.

As was the case for research done with animal subjects, human trials pointed to epitalon benefits desirable for individuals of all ages.

A 2011 collaboration between Korkushko, Khavinson, and two other researchers examined the effects of epitalon on elderly coronary patients. The team found that long-term treatment—meaning six courses over 3 years—resulted in numerous benefits, including:

  • Slowed rate of cardiovascular aging
  • Prevention of age-related declines to physical endurance
  • Rebalanced melatonin production and circadian rhythm
  • Normalized carbohydrate and fat metabolism

Patients also had lower rates of mortality than those in the control group who received basic therapy but no epitalon.

A 2013 study looked at the influence of epitalon on chromosome aberrations in pulmonary tuberculosis patients, as this disease is classified as one stemming from a genetic predisposition. Genome stability, or rather, instability, is one marker that can assist with the early detection of pulmonary tuberculosis. The researchers hoped that epitalon would have a corrective effect on the genome variability linked to the disease. Epitalon proved to have a potent protective effect—it reduced the frequency of aberrant cells for all subjects. However, it did not have a significant effect on chromosomal fragility that was already present.

Conclusion

The work of Dr. Vladimir Khavinson and other researchers, primarily based in Russia and Ukraine, indicate that epitalon has immense promise as an anti-aging drug. This promise has to do with epitalon’s ability to influence gene expression, extend telomere length, and other exciting physiological effects that have what experts call “geroprotective” results.

Little research has yet been conducted on epitalon by researchers without ties to Russian institutions, so it may be too soon to make definitive statements about epitalon, but the findings so far certainly give a justification for further investigation.

How to Memorize Amino Acids: Your Study Hack for Acing the MCATs

How to memorize amino acids: 6 creative mnemonics for memorizing the different amino acid classifications, including charged, polar, nonpolar, essential, nonessential, and aromatic.

Whether you’re studying to pass the MCATs (future medical students) or the PCATs (future pharmacists), you’re going to need to summon extensive knowledge of the 20 main amino acids relevant to human health. We have a few mnemonics that can help you ace your upcoming exam. Read on to learn how to memorize amino acids.

The Use of Mnemonics for Memory

Mnemonic devices are memory aids, and can be anything from a rhyme, a song (like the alphabet song), or any other trick to remember a set of information for whatever reason. Researchers have confirmed that mnemonic strategies help improve memory in those with mild cognitive impairment by literally reshaping the brain network to support superior memory.

Some examples of mnemonics include the way people remember the order of colors in the rainbow: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet, which can be recalled by thinking of a man named ROY G. BIV, or by remembering the phrase “Rainbows Over Your Great Big Island Vista.”

The mnemonic for order of operations is PEMDAS or “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally”: Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication and Division, and Addition and Subtraction. Same with remembering the order of the plants that revolve around our sun: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune can be remembered with the phrase, “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Noodles.”

These sorts of mnemonic devices might only need to take up space in your head until you’ve fully retained the information, or these devices may serve you for the rest of your life, like remembering the clockwise order of North, East, South, and West by forever thinking, “Never Eat Soggy Waffles.” As nonsensical as it may be, it’s helpful!

How to memorize Amino Acids

How to Memorize Amino Acids: 6 Mnemonic Devices

Without further ado, here are the tricks for how to memorize 20 amino acids. MCATs are notoriously difficult and stressful, so if you can help yourself file away the information you need on the aminos in general, like which are polar and nonpolar, which are essential and nonessential, plus their structures and which have electrically charged side chains, you’re that much closer to passing your exam.

Fundamentals First

Let’s start with the structure of amino acids, as that is what classifies them each so distinctly.

1. Amino Acid Structures

Amino acids all have the same basic structure, with a hydrogen atom and three functional groups of molecules attached to a central atom. They start with a carbon atom at the center and are joined by an amino or amine group (~NH3+), a hydrogen atom, and a carboxyl group (~COOH). The final side chain is the one that makes each amino different: the R group is the variable group that makes each structure distinct.

The way to remember their collective structure is CORN, an acronym for the carboxyl group (CO), R group (R), and amino group (N).

When it comes to L- vs. D- amino acids, the difference is the direction that they rotate. For the L- or left-moving amino acids, starting with the carboxyl group (CO) the next structure that moves to the top will be the R group (R), and then the amino group (N). D- aminos move in the opposite direction showing you carboxyl, then amino, then the R group. The order stays the same, it’s just a matter of whether the molecule rotates right or left.

CORN is easier to keep in mind than the non-word CONR for remembering which groups in what order surround the central carbon atom.

All 20 Amino Acids: Charged, Polar, and Nonpolar

Read on for ways to remember which amino acids are hydrophilic (polar) and which are hydrophobic (nonpolar), as well as a trick for remembering the basic (positively charged) and acidic (negatively charged) aminos. All 20 amino acids can be sorted into the three categories: charged, polar, and nonpolar.

2. Charged Amino Acids

In organic chemistry, of the 20 common amino acids, five have side chains that are able to be charged, two negatively and three positively.

  • Negatively charged amino acids: Glutamate or glutamic acid (Glu, E) and aspartate or aspartic acid (Asp, D). These are the two acidic amino acids (hence the word “acid” in their names). Here’s a good place to note that aspartate and glutamate are identical to asparagine (Asn, N) and glutamine (Gln, Q) except that the first two have negatively charged oxygen molecules attached to them, while the latter two have an amino group with nitrogen contained within. When you notice the “n” in each of their three-letter codes, think of nitrogen, and that may help you differentiate between them.
  • Positively charged amino acids: Arginine (Arg, R), histidine (His, H), and lysine (Lys, K). These are also the three basic amino acids.

To remember these five we suggest the phrase: “Dragons Eat Knights Riding Horses.” It’s based on their one-letter codes D, E, K, R, and H. As far as which one-letter code goes to which amino, we suggest you employ flashcards for memorizing the letter abbreviations, because as you can see, they don’t necessarily contain the letter to which they’re assigned.

3. Polar Amino Acids (Hydrophilic)

Polar amino acids are so classified because they contain side chains that prefer to reside in water environments (hydrophilic). Histidine, lysine, and arginine (the positively charged aminos) are also considered polar. The rest include: asparagine (Asn, N), aspartate (Asp, D), serine (Ser, S), glutamine (Gln, Q), threonine (Thr, T), glutamate (Glu, E), and tyrosine (Tyr, Y).

One way to remember these is by their one-letter codes: “Santa’s Team Darns New Quilts Every Year.”

4. Nonpolar Amino Acids (Hydrophobic)

The nonpolar, hydrophobic amino acids are:

  • Alanine (Ala, A)
  • Phenylalanine (Phe, F)
  • Glycine (Gly, G)
  • Proline (Pro, P)
  • Isoleucine (Ile)
  • Tryptophan (Trp, W)
  • Leucine (Leu, L)
  • Isoleucine (Ile, I)
  • Valine (Val, V)
  • Methionine (Met, M)
  • Cysteine (Cys, C)

Here’s a handy way to remember these 10 nonpolar aminos: “Grandma Always Visits London In May For Winston Churchill’s Party.” Winston Churchill was born November 30, 1874, but as the prime minister during World War II, you might imagine he’d have a party each year on May 8th, which is Victory in Europe Day, celebrating the formal surrender of the Nazis to the Allies. This is a mnemonic device that could help you on any upcoming history exams too!

Aromatic, Essential, and Nonessential Amino Acids

There are a few more classifications that might be useful to know on MCAT amino acids questions: which amino acids are aromatic and which are considered essential vs. nonessential.

5. Essential Amino Acids

The essential amino acids are the ones we need to get from our food, because they cannot be produced independently inside the body. They include:

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

The best mnemonic device for this one is not based on the one-letter codes, but instead on the first letter of each amino: PVT. T.M. HILL. Just think of Private T.M. Hill as one of the brave soldiers who returned from war and happily celebrates each May with Winston Churchill.

6. Nonessential Amino Acids

Here are the remaining 11 amino acids that our bodies can synthesize independently:

  • Alanine
  • Arginine
  • Asparagine
  • Aspartic acid
  • Cysteine
  • Glutamic acid
  • Glutamine
  • Glycine
  • Proline
  • Serine
  • Tyrosine

You can use the first letter of each one as a mnemonic: “Ah, Almost All Girls Go Crazy After Getting Taken Prom Shopping.” If you think the guys go as crazy as the girls, feel free to sub in one G-word for the other.

Memorable Aminos

Now you have six mnemonic tools for how to memorize the amino acids in preparation for your exams. There’s always more information to learn (for example, the three aromatic amino acids), but these memory tricks can help you lay the groundwork for a pre-med education that’s only just beginning. Best of luck!

T-Lymphocytes: How Your T-Cells Save Your Life

You may have heard vaguely about the importance of T-lymphocyte or T-cells in your immune system, but how do they function? Find out how closely linked amino acids like glutamine, methionine, and leucine are to your immune system response and the utilization of T-lymphocyte cells to fight diseases and cancer.

You may have heard vaguely about the importance of T-lymphocyte or T-cells in your immune system, but how do they function? And what do they have to do with amino acids? We break down the science so that if ever you hear your T-cells are too high or too low, you’ll know what the doctor is talking about.

What Are T-Lymphocytes?

A lymphocyte is a type of white blood cell, and each white blood cell has a specific role to play in the body’s immune function. Like all blood cells, T-lymphocytes come from haematopoietic stem cells, which are stem cells in our bone marrow. They work to fight infections and various types of cancer cells in an adaptive immune system, also referred to as an acquired immune system. Our adaptive immunity uses T-cells and B-cells (B-lymphocytes, also derived from bone marrow) to battle organisms and intracellular pathogens that slip through the frontlines of our bodies’ defenses.

T-cells work in cell-mediated immunity. While we’re born with other innate immune cells like dendritic cells, basophils, neutrophils, and macrophages (which are also deployed in emergency immune responses), T-cells and B-cells launch a more sophisticated and targeted attack.

Both T-cells and B-cells are specialized cells that we earn by surviving in our environments. These cells tend to live longer than innate immune cells, and they are also the cells that allow for vaccinations to work due to their ability to learn, adapt, and grow stronger.

B-cells mature in our bone marrow, whereas T-cells travel first to the thymus gland and become thymocytes, which is where they get their “T,” and continue to mature and differentiate. Our thymus glands shrink as we age, making T-cell expansion more and more vital as we grow older.

Immunotherapy treatments for multiple forms of cancer, including cancers of the bloodstream like lymphoma and leukemia, rely on T-cells. T-cells are less likely than B-cells to mutate into liquid cancers like chronic lymphocytic leukemia or B-cell lymphoma, and T-cells can also be engineered into chimeric antigen receptors, able to identify specific proteins on tumor cell membranes for a surgical strike against cancer.

Types of T-Lymphocytes

There are two major types of T-cells: helper T-cells, which stimulate B-cells to create antibodies, and killer T-cells, which mercilessly strike out any compromised or infected cell they find.

Taking advantage of this ability to target cells, researchers have developed anti-cancer drugs to enhance this form of autoimmunity against cancers like melanoma and lung cancer, disrupting the surface marker evasions these cells employ to sneak into the body and activating the surface receptors of T-cells to focus them on cancer elimination.

Further T-cell specifications break down into five types of T-cells.

  • CD4+ T-Cells: These helper cells activate when they discover MHC Class II molecules (major histocompatibility complex) on the cell surface of antigen presenting cells (APCs). They stimulate B-cells to become plasma cells and memory B-cells, activate innate macrophages and cytotoxic T-cells, and rapidly divide while secreting cytokines (small proteins) to alert the immune system’s response.
  • CD8+ T-Cells: CD8+ cytotoxic T-cells (CTLs) cause lysis (cell wall disintegration) in antigenic tumor and virus-infected cells.
  • Memory T-cells: Naive T-cells upon activation differentiate into either CD4+ or CD8+ effector function cells, or memory T-cells. Memory T-cells are long-living, and therefore have the ability to “remember” encountered pathogens and quickly expand into CD4+ or CD8+ in large numbers when they encounter them again.
  • Natural Killer T-Cells: Most T-cells function after recognizing MHC molecules (MHC-I or -II) via T-cell receptors (TCRs), but these natural killer cells are able to bind to other foreign antigen cells without that stimulation, and proceed to kill them by inserting perforin-containing granules through the cell walls (perforin is a protein that creates lesion-like pores in cell membranes).
  • Regulatory T-cells: Regulatory T-cells are present to check the immune system and help prevent the development of autoimmune diseases and allergies to common environmental realities like molds, pollen, or pet dander.

What Are T-Lymphocytes?

Amino Acids and the Immune Response

Thymic, or T-cell activation, is closely linked to our amino acids. Most of our lymphocytes, including T-cells, move through the lymph nodes and other lymphatic organs like the tonsils and spleen, but they can’t do so unaided. There are amino acids necessary for this immune response.

Glutamine

Glutamine is a nonessential hydrophilic amino acid that is coupled with naive T-cell activation and linked to the amino acid transporter ASCT2. Researchers have found that inflammatory T-cell responses rely on amino acid transporter ASCT2 and come with a rapid glutamine uptake. Though it’s still not largely understood, it’s nevertheless clear that glutamine plays a role in the immune response necessary to defeat deadly pathogens.

Methionine

Methionine is an essential amino acid that researchers have identified as necessary for the synthesis of new proteins and muscle and for the methylation of RNA and DNA, which drives T-cell proliferation and differentiation. Essential amino acids are those our bodies cannot make independently, and so must be consumed in the proper amount via food sources or supplementation.

Leucine

Again, the amino acid transporters that are tasked with the uptake of essential amino acids like leucine are attached to the development, maintenance, and activation of T-lymphocytes. This 2017 review looked at LAT1 (L-leucine transporter) along with ASCT2 (L-glutamine transporter) and GAT-1 (γ-aminobutyric acid transporter-1) and found that they are important for the fate decisions and determinations of memory T-cells and other lymphocytes. The researchers also suggested that manipulation of the amino acid transporter-mTORC1 axis could help manage inflammatory and autoimmune diseases tied to T-cell-based immune responses.

What Interrupts T-Lymphocyte Function?

T- and B-lymphocytes work hand-in-hand to fight disease and infection, but sometimes they are forced out of order in circumstances of illness. Doctors can often use a blood count of overall lymphocyte content to determine whether or not there is something afflicting your immune system. If your lymphocyte count is too high or too low it could indicate the following diseases and disorders.

Low Lymphocyte Count

A low lymphocyte count is known as lymphocytopenia, and can arise if your body isn’t producing sufficient lymphocytes, if the lymphocytes you do produce are being destroyed, or if they are trapped in places like your spleen or lymph nodes. With a lower lymphocyte count you are more at risk of developing infections, and that low count is often associated with the following conditions:

  • Influenza
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Undernutrition
  • Steroid usage
  • Radiation therapy and chemo drugs for cancer
  • Cancers like Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Autoimmune diseases like lupus
  • Inherited conditions like DiGeorge or Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome

High Lymphocyte Count

A high lymphocyte count, called lymphocytosis, is also an indication that your immune system is under attack from an overwhelming disease or illness, such as the following:

Amino Acids and The Immune Response

Taking Care of Your T-Cells

Without T-lymphocyte cells standing as the second line of defense against diseases, viruses, and cancer cells, our immune systems would collapse. Scientists are hard at work not only trying to understand the utilization pathways of these cells, but also striving to improve their numbers and recruit them in the battle to cure cancer. Closely tied to the movement and usage of our amino acids, T-cells are the special ops team keeping each of us alive.

Pancreatin: Uses, Side Effects and Potential Drug Interactions

Pancreatin, a mixture of the digestive enzymes amylase, lipase, and protease, has a well-established history of use as a treatment for pancreatic insufficiency and other conditions that impact pancreatic function and fat digestion. It’s important to follow the dosing instructions provided by your doctor or on the product label to avoid side effects and unforeseen drug interactions.

Pancreatin, also called pancrelipase and pancreatic enzymes, is a mixture of digestive enzymes used to supplement the body’s natural supply of such enzymes. Under normal circumstances, the pancreas produces all the digestive enzymes necessary for breaking down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates from the food you eat. However, certain conditions—including cystic fibrosis, chronic pancreatitis, and pancreatic cancer—can impede the pancreas’s ability to carry out that vital function, resulting in malabsorption.

Here’s what you should know about what pancreatin is and how it works, the conditions it’s been shown to effectively treat, side effects associated with its use, and potential drug interactions.

What Is Pancreatin?

To prevent malabsorption and ensure full, efficient digestion, three essential enzymes are needed: amylase, lipase, and protease. Most pancreatin products are made using enzymes extracted from the pancreases of pigs—you may see these termed porcine pancreatic extract or porcine pancreatic enzymes. In some cases, the pancreatic enzymes come from the pancreases of cows—the key term to look for here is bovine.

The medical use of pancreatin dates back to the 1800s at least. It now appears on the World Health Organization (WHO)’s List of Essential Medicines, which evaluates the effectiveness, safety, and cost-effectiveness of various medicines, then determines which should be considered essential to health care systems around the globe. Pancreatin is currently available both by prescription and as a supplement—in 2019, more than one million prescriptions were written in the United States alone.

5 Questions About Pancreatin, Answered

4 Proven Uses for Pancreatin

Studies support the use of pancreatin for a number of medical conditions, all of which somehow affect either the pancreas or fat digestion.

1. Pancreatic Insufficiency

The most common use for pancreatin is to treat digestive problems related to disorders of the pancreas. This is sometimes referred to as pancreatic insufficiency.

According to an article published in BMC Medicine in 2017, the most common causes of pancreatic insufficiency are:

  • Chronic pancreatitis
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • History of extensive necrotizing acute pancreatitis
  • Pancreatitis (swelling of the pancreas)
  • Pancreas removal

Researchers have conclusively determined that taking pancreatin improves the absorption of fat and protein and raises energy levels.

Pancreatic enzyme treatments historically had varying levels of efficacy, but since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) put regulations in place for all prescription formulations in 2010, they have become quite reliable. Studies show they can treat abdominal pain, malnutrition, steatorrhea (pale, oily, foul-smelling stools), and weight loss, and that they may even be able to improve an individual’s overall quality of life.

2. Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a condition characterized by the accumulation of fat in the livers of individuals who drink little or no alcohol. In some cases, this condition develops after individuals have the pancreas removed. Studies indicate that taking pancreatin may help to treat or prevent NAFLD in those individuals.

Findings published in the Journal of Hepato-Biliary-Pancreatic Sciences showed that treatment with pancreatin could significantly improve liver fat levels among patients who developed NAFLD after having their pancreases removed. Analysis also revealed improvements to liver function, digestion, and blood levels of proteins, albumin, and cholesterol.

3. HIV/AIDS

Individuals with HIV and AIDS sometimes have difficulty digesting fat. Preliminary findings indicate that taking pancreatin might improve fat digestion for those individuals.

According to a retrospective analysis published in HIV Medicine, 104 out of 233 patients showed signs of pancreatic insufficiency. Pancreatin proved to be an effective treatment for symptoms of pancreatic insufficiency, such as steatorrhea, in a majority of patients.

4. Pancreatic Cancer

Issues with digestion can occur for certain individuals with pancreatic cancer, resulting in unwanted weight loss. According to some studies, pancreatin can lead to beneficial weight gain for individuals with pancreatic cancer. Other studies, however, were unable to locate any evidence that pancreatin leads to weight gain, improved nutritional status, or increased rates of survival for pancreatic cancer patients.

These divergences may be because pancreatin only helps individuals with underlying pancreatic enzyme issues, which can be difficult to differentiate from the physiological manifestations of pancreatic cancer as well as the side effects of pancreatic cancer treatments.

The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) recommends that patients experiencing signs of pancreatic insufficiency discuss the use of pancreatin with their medical team. Those symptoms include:

  • Indigestion
  • Stomach cramps after eating
  • Gas
  • Frequent, loose stools
  • Weight loss

Best Practices for Taking Pancreatin

When discussing the use of pancreatin with your doctor, be sure to disclose if you have allergies to pork proteins. If you have any other allergies, asthma, or gout, that’s also important information for your doctor to have.

The FDA has classified pancreatin in pregnancy category C, meaning it’s possible it may have an adverse effect on a fetus, but the potential benefits might outweigh the risks. Pregnant women should be sure to seek medical advice about possible side effects from a trusted source before taking pancreatin. Since it’s also possible pancreatin can pass into breast milk, nursing mothers should do the same.

General Dosing Recommendations

Be sure to follow the instructions given by your doctor or provided on the label for the pancreatin product you chose. If your doctor adjusts your dose, stick to that dosage and be sure to discuss any desired changes with your doctor rather than trying them out on your own.

That said, scientific research on the use of pancreatin can be used to extrapolate some general guidelines, which vary based on the targeted condition.

For pancreatic insufficiency, doses are measured in units of lipase—one of the enzymes in pancreatin that’s required for proper metabolism. A typical starting dose would be between 500 and 1,000 lipase units per kilogram (kg) of body weight, taken with each meal. The high end of the range would be 2,500 lipase units/kg at each meal. Amounts in excess of that should only be taken if a physician has deemed it medically necessary.

For NAFLD, the most studied option is a specific, delayed-release prescription pancreatic enzyme drug that’s sold in the United States under the brand name Creon. Research supports the use of a daily 1,800-milligram dose for a duration of 6-12 months.

Expert Tips to Minimize Side Effects and Maximize Results

Experts advise always taking pancreatin with food (either meal or snack will work), in part because doing so mimics the way the body naturally releases endogenous pancreatic enzymes. It’s advisable to drink an entire glass of water with your dose of pancreatin too.

Always take pancreatin tablets whole. Do not pulverize the tablets, break them into pieces, or chew them. Swallow each tablet promptly and avoid holding it in your mouth, as that may cause irritation to the sensitive tissues there.

Plan ahead to avoid running out of this important medication—call in for a prescription refill before you take your last dose. If you do miss a dose, take that dose as soon as you realize you missed one. If it’s nearly time to take your next dose, refrain from making up the dose missed previously. Never take a double dose.

If you’re using prescription pancreatin, keep in mind that changes to the brand, strength, or type may affect the dose you take. Be sure to speak with your doctor or pharmacist about any questions you have related to medication changes.

Pancreatin does not need to be refrigerated. It should be stored at room temperature in a cool, dry location.

Unless instructed to do so by your prescribing physician, do not take any other digestive enzymes while using pancreatin. You should also refrain from taking antacid medications both an hour before and an hour after each dose of pancreatin.

5 Expert Tips to Get the Most from Pancreatin

Watch for These Possible Side Effects of Pancreatin

The FDA has determined the oral use of pancreatin to be “likely safe” when supervised by a health care provider. That said, it can cause side effects.

Common side effects include:

  • Dizziness
  • Changes to blood sugar levels (both increases and decreases)
  • Stomach pain
  • Gas
  • Unusual bowel movements
  • Nausea
  • Minor skin rash

However, the FDA has categorized taking pancreatin in doses that exceed those prescribed by your doctor as possibly unsafe, in part because it appears doing so makes you more likely to develop a rare bowel disorder.

If you experience more severe side effects, you should contact your doctor immediately. Watch for:

  • Intense nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Joint pain and swelling
  • Pronounced changes to baseline symptoms

If you show signs of an allergic reaction, you should seek immediate medical help by calling 9-1-1 or going to the emergency department at the nearest hospital. Indicators of an allergic reaction include:

  • Labored breathing
  • Facial swelling
  • Swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat
  • Hives

What You Should Know About Pancreatin Side Effects

Be Aware of These Potential Drug Interactions

As is true of nearly every bioactive substance you ingest, it’s possible for pancreatin to interact with other prescription and over-the-counter medicines as well as vitamins, supplements, and herbal products. If you’re taking prescription pancreatin, be sure to discuss with your doctor all other medicines, vitamins, or supplements you currently take.

One drug that’s known to interact poorly with pancreatin is acarbose (sold under the brand names Precose and Prandase). This drug helps to treat type 2 diabetes by slowing the rate at which the body metabolizes food. Because pancreatin helps the body break food down more efficiently, it can decrease the efficacy of acarbose.

Conclusion

Pancreatin is a mixture of digestive enzymes—specifically, amylase, lipase, and protease. It has a well-established history of use as a treatment for pancreatic insufficiency, a condition that can be caused by cystic fibrosis, chronic pancreatitis, and pancreatic cancer, among other health disorders.

Studies show that taking pancreatin addresses symptoms of pancreatic insufficiency such as:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Malnutrition
  • Steatorrhea (pale, oily, foul-smelling stools)
  • Weight loss

By doing so, it can significantly improve an individual’s overall quality of life.

Pancreatin is available as prescription and over the counter. It’s important to follow the dosing instructions provided by your doctor or on the label of the product you chose. If you experience severe side effects, contact your health care practitioner immediately. If you show signs of an allergic reaction, seek emergency medical attention.

Because pancreatin can interact with other medications—prescription, over-the-counter, and herbal—it’s important to speak with a doctor to avoid unforeseen interactions.

How to Lengthen Telomeres—and Why You Should

Shortening of telomeres plays a vital role in cellular division and the aging process, which has led to intense interest in how to lengthen telomeres. Research indicates that both telomerase therapy and RNA treatments could possibly be effective interventions, however, it will likely be some time before those treatments become available to the public. In the meantime, a new study points to amino acids as a possible method for enhancing the health of your telomeres. 

“Telomeres”—have you encountered that term yet? It seems that interest in telomere length and how to lengthen telomeres is reaching somewhat of a fever pitch.

Researchers describe telomeres as the cellular equivalent of the plastic tips placed on the ends of shoelaces to prevent fraying. The material telomeres keep intact, however, is your DNA.

When a cell divides and replicates, the replication does not include the full length of the DNA strand—a small section from the ends does not get copied. Telomeres cap the ends, ensuring nothing vital gets left out of the replicated cell. Each time a cell divides, a little bit of the telomeres at its ends gets left behind. So, over time, telomeres become shorter and shorter. When they get too short, the cell they’re attached to stops replication and enters senescence. The accumulation of senescent cells in the body is thought to contribute to the development of many age-related health conditions, such as:

A wealth of research indicates linkages between length of telomeres and overall health. While some have interpolated that to mean that short telomeres indicate a short lifespan, others feel it’s more complex than that.

Here’s what you should know about telomeres, the vital role of an enzyme called telomerase, and how to lengthen telomeres (including a very accessible option).

10 Quick Facts About Telomeres

What Are Telomeres?

The word telomere is derived from Greek (as many medical terms are)—specifically, the word “telos,” which means end, and the word “meros,” which means part. Scientists suspect that short telomeres may be a contributing factor to the development of many chronic diseases, while geroscientists think it’s possible that the shortening of telomeres may drive the entire aging process.

Telomere shortening can be thought of as the lighting of a fuse attached to a cell. With each cell division, telomeres grow shorter until (to continue the metaphor) the flame gets too close to valuable genetic information, triggering cellular senescence or apoptosis (cell death).

Technically speaking, telomeres are repeated sequences of DNA that keep our chromosomes stable during cellular division and protect our genetic information. Thus, shorter telomeres correlate with an increased risk of cancer and other diseases linked to genetic malfunctions. Telomeres also regulate the cellular aging process, dictating how many times a cell can safely divide. Scientists used to believe that cells could replicate indefinitely, and research into telomeres has been a vital component of efforts to better understand cellular replication and its effect on human health.

The Science of Telomeres

Pioneering scientists Hermann Muller (who gave telomeres their name) and Barbara McClintock were the first to recognize that telomeres appeared to have a protective function. After their groundbreaking work in the 1930s, however, it would take several more decades for researchers to comprehend how telomeres functioned in relation to cellular aging.

One reason for that was the persistent assumption that cells could divide endlessly, an incorrect belief that was shattered at last in 1961 when two scientists from the Wistar Institute of Anatomy and Biology in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania discovered that cells can only divide a limited number of times. For the lung cell cultures they observed that limit appeared to be set around 40 or 50 divisions.

The next decade ushered in the work of Elizabeth Blackburn, an icon in the field of human telomere research. At Yale University in the 1970s, she became the first to identify a telomere sequence.

Another major breakthrough took place in 1998 when a research team based in Menlo Park, California found that artificially extending the length of the telomeres attached to cells could allow them to continue dividing indefinitely, thereby officially “establishing a causal relationship between telomere shortening and in vitro cellular senescence.”

Then, in 2009, Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider, and Jack Szostak won a Nobel Prize for their discovery of telomerase, an enzyme that lengthens telomeres and which remains shut off in most cells after the early phases of growth.

Since then, telomeres have become a hot topic among those interested in healthy aging. “Once telomeres became popular knowledge, all sorts of people came out of the woodworks selling nutraceuticals, natural products, claiming that it was the fountain of youth,” explained Jerry Shay, a biologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center who specializes in telomeres, in an interview.

Understanding the Role of Telomerase

As touched on briefly in the preceding section, the enzyme telomerase is responsible for telomere lengthening. When it restores length to telomeres, it bestows the cells those protective caps that are correlated with a longer lifespan. Because of this, some experts in the field of geroscience believe that increasing the body’s supply of telomeres can safeguard—and even restore—the length of our telomeres. This, in turn, will help to prevent the development of age-related diseases.

While a number of different proteins contribute to telomere upkeep, telomerase carries out the most important role—it rebuilds the ends that get shortened during cellular division.

As established earlier, the cells of the body can’t replicate indefinitely. To be more precise, however, somatic cells can’t replicate like that. Stem cells, however, are immortal. To continue dividing without compromising genetic code, stem cells use telomerase to rebuild the ends of their telomeres. With perpetually long telomeres in place, they can carry on dividing, and dividing, and dividing. Telomerase keeps their telomeres at a consistent length regardless of how many times they divide, allowing them to continue with their vital work, which includes tissue growth and regeneration.

It is because ordinary, somatic cells do not use telomerase that they can only divide a limited number of times.

So, you might be thinking that supplementing with telomerase would have to be the most effective anti-aging treatment ever. And in a sense, you’d be right. But scientists worry this approach could come with serious adverse side effects. You see, there’s another type of cell that uses telomerase—cancer cells. That’s why they’re able to replicate so ruthlessly. Experts worry that if telomerase levels rise too high, that could fuel the growth of cancer.

How to Lengthen Telomeres

Because of the potential risks associated with telomerase therapy, research so far has been conducted with rodents. That said, the results have been highly encouraging.

A 2012 study published in EMBO Molecular Medicine found that the use of telomerase gene therapy in adult mice successfully extended lifespans without increasing cancer risk. They found that higher levels of telomerase translated to “remarkable beneficial effects on health and fitness, including insulin sensitivity, osteoporosis, neuromuscular coordination and several molecular biomarkers of aging.” Even more impressive, however, were the increases to lifespan—an increase of 13% for 2-year-old mice and 24% for 1-year-old mice.

While this seems to indicate telomerase therapy could be an effective anti-aging tool, allowing us to live longer, healthier lives, it’s important to remember more research is needed to corroborate those findings. There are (obviously) many differences between humans and mice, including that mice have longer telomeres than humans at baseline.

That said, the results of in-vitro, test-tube studies have also shown that adding telomerase makes it possible for cells to continue to replicate long past the point at which they would typically undergo senescence or apoptosis.

Another interesting approach to lengthening telomeres is the use of RNA therapy. Dr. John Cooke, department chair of cardiovascular sciences at Houston Methodist Research Institute, led a team in analyzing whether RNA therapy could lengthen the telomeres of human cells, albeit in test tubes.

To do so, Cook and his team harvested cells from children living with progeria, a condition that causes such rapid aging, most who have it die in their teens. Earlier studies had already established that children with progeria have markedly short telomeres.

Before the RNA treatment, the harvested cells multiplied poorly and died quickly. Once the RNA was inserted, “cells proliferated normally,” stated Cooke. “It was a dramatic improvement.“ He noted, too, that the RNA treatment rolled back other indicators of aging, like the presence of inflammatory proteins.

A More Accessible Option

While findings on the use of telomerase and RNA are certainly exciting, it’s unlikely that most people will have access to these treatments in the near future. Luckily, there’s a more accessible way you can directly impact the health of your telomeres.

Vicki Lundblad, a professor in the Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences, led a team who identified a key protein group that helps lengthen telomere ends. Through analysis of the structure of human telomerase, Lundblad uncovered three EST proteins—known as Est1, Est2, and Est3—that make major contributions to telomerase activity. Est2, along with RNA, does the cellular heavy lifting necessary for reconstructing telomeres, while Est1 and Est3 ensure that process progresses smoothly. Both Est1 and Est3 make unique contributions. Est 1 transports telomerase to the telomeres. “Without Est1, telomerase cannot get to the ends of chromosomes, and thus telomeres shorten,” Lundblad stated.

Ongoing analysis is centered on clarifying the role of Est3. What the team knows so far is that it uses specific amino acids to interact with telomerase. When the team inactivated those amino, shorter telomeres were produced, indication that telomerase activity had been measurably impaired.

In other words, without amino acids, the body cannot utilize telomerase. Yet another reason to ensure your body always has a ready, more-than-adequate supply of essential amino acids.

Conclusion

Telomeres ensure that the cellular division process does not result in the loss of genetic material. Instead, each time your cells divide, a section of your telomeres gets left behind. When telomeres become too short, cells stop dividing and become inactive.

This has led to intense interest in how to preserve and lengthen telomeres. Research indicates that both telomerase therapy and RNA treatments could possibly be effective interventions. However, it will likely be some time before those treatments become available to the public.

In the meantime, a new study points to amino acids as a possible method for enhancing the health of your telomeres. Given the many benefits associated with amino acids, this seems like a telomere-lengthening strategy worth trying.

The Reverse-Aging Diet: Is Autophagy the Key to Staying Young?

By using autophagy fasting techniques and nutritionally superior foods, you can reverse certain aspects of aging and recover your rightful vitality. Here’s what you need to know about the reverse-aging diet.

The reverse-aging diet is also known as “eating for autophagy,” but what does that mean for you? Autophagy is a biological process that allows the body to recycle aging or dying cells to synthesize new and better ones. It’s not exactly like a keto or paleo diet where you can just know what not to eat and carry on—there’s a timing aspect to autophagic eating, as well as specific foods that have their own anti-aging strengths. We’ll cover both aspects of the reverse-aging diet here.

What Is Autophagy and How Does It Reverse Aging?

The body’s autophagy process was discovered in the 1950s and ’60s accidentally by Christian de Duve, a Belgian scientist who was studying insulin at the time. He named the process after the Greek words for “self” (auto) and “eating” (phagy), because in a sense that is what it entails: the body sends cells around to cannibalize the useful parts of dying cells, or to eat up the garbage byproduct of normal cell functioning, and uses those pieces to repair or replace dying cells with stronger cells. It’s like a molecular version of recycling and up-cycling material that would otherwise be clogging up the streets.

Scientific understanding of autophagy didn’t advance again until the 1970s and ’80s, when another Nobel prize-winning scientist, Yoshinori Ohsumi, discovered the genes that regulate the autophagic response. It was ultimately determined that, just as with all the other processes in the body, autophagy starts to decline with age. Autophagy on decline is sort of like having a broken garbage disposal and leaving leftover food bits in your sink: eventually this will gum up the works.

And yet, just as it’s possible to get your garbage and recycling habits back in working order, it’s also possible to trigger autophagy even as you age and the process naturally slows. By using diet to manipulate a “stress response” in the body, you can essentially assign cleaning days to your cells, the same way you might when creating a chore chart for a busy family: some days are for cleaning and some days are for more thoroughly enjoying life in a clean house.

Long story short, by using intermittent fasting practices and eating key nutritional foods, you can regularly bring autophagy out of a sluggish maintenance mode and make sure the cellular garbage in your body doesn’t overwhelm healthy functioning and lead to symptoms of aging.

Autophagy Fasting: How Does It Work?

Autophagy is actually part of some diets like keto and Atkins, diets that carefully put the body into a small nutritional crisis to manipulate healthy results. By inhibiting carbohydrate intake for example, the body becomes alarmed enough to start burning fat stores for energy. Usually the body guards these fat stores like piles of emergency gold in case of famine, but in a modern, First World context, famine is way less of a threat, while obesity contributes to more and more preventable deaths each year.

If you want to fast in a way that triggers autophagic metabolism and slows down the aging process, follow these basic steps:

  • Eat all of your meals within an 8-hour window. You still need your essential nutrients, but you want your body to spend some energy cleaning up rather than digesting and functioning all the time. For the best foods to eat for autophagy, read on to the next section.
  • Fast between 16 and 28 hours intermittently. Periods of nutrient deprivation trigger autophagy. The reason intermittent fasting works is that it triggers the sort of secondary metabolisms we evolved to survive in harsh climates, but it does so in small windows of time without actually starving us.
  • Sustain yourself and your energy with exogenous ketones. While fasting, water, tea, and black coffee are acceptable to consume. If you choose to add MCT oil (medium-chain triglycerides from coconut oil) to your drink, your body will have just enough energy to function and feel satiated without interrupting your fasting goals for weight loss or cellular clean-up.

Autophagy is also triggered by vigorous exercise routines, like HIIT workouts (high-intensity interval training), which, much like intermittent fasting, utilize small windows of high stress to elicit the biological responses we need to stay young and healthy. Modern life is often too safe and sedentary, and our survival mechanisms get weak from lack of use. Autophagy reminds our bodies that each day is still a matter of life and death.

What Is Autophagy and How Does It Reverse Aging

The Reverse-Aging Diet: Which Foods Keep the Body Young?

You’ll want to start by reducing (not eliminating) carbs. Eating more low carb starts inching your body towards ketosis, with the beneficial side effect of losing body fat and weight. In addition to lowering carb intake, you’ll want to consume nutrient-dense foods with compounds that contribute directly to the body’s anti-aging efforts.

Green Tea and Matcha Powder

Green tea has become nearly synonymous with longevity, so much so that statistically the more green tea you consume regularly, the longer you live. This is why it’s a staple in almost every anti-aging diet. Green tea and matcha powder (ground green tea leaves) contain polyphenols that help reduce the inflammation caused by free radical toxins. And catechins in green tea can help prevent the effects on sun damage and the appearance of fine lines when used topically in skincare products.

Kale and Leafy Greens

Cruciferous vegetables and leafy greens are rightly considered superfoods. Kale, broccoli and broccoli greens, spinach, Brussels sprouts—all of these lean greens contain hefty amounts of vitamin K, lutein, fiber, and phytochemicals that help reduce the risk of cancer and guard against the oxidative damage of free radicals. Their vitamin A content contributes to healthy, youthful skin and wound repair, while their vitamin C content serves as a precursor to collagen and new skin cell production. Plus, vitamin C acts as an antioxidant so powerful it helps prevent cold and flu infections. The vitamins and minerals in leafy greens are some of the best anti-aging nutrients to be found.

Walnuts and Almonds

Most nuts contain valuable amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and plant-based protein, but that isn’t the end of their value as anti-aging food. Walnuts in particular may extend life for up to 3 years, possibly by reducing the risk factors for cancer and heart disease. And almonds are full of vitamins A, B, and E, healthy fats, and antioxidants that belong in every healthy diet to help reduce inflammation from the skin to within.

Seeds

Just about any seed that isn’t poisonous is good for you, from chia to sunflower to flaxseeds. Ask any dietitian or nutritionist if you’re eating enough seeds, and the answer will likely be a resounding “no!” Most of us in the modern world don’t consume seeds nearly as much as we’re evolved to. In fact, we have intentionally engineered seedless foods like watermelon and bananas just to avoid what we should be consuming regularly.

Chia seeds are sources of water-soluble fiber that swells with liquid and helps slow down digestion and keep blood sugar levels from spiking. They are anti-inflammatory, full of omega-3s, and contain all nine essential amino acids necessary for new muscle growth at all stages of life.

These features can be found in flaxseeds as well, which have anti-aging nutrients for your skin and flavonoids known to help lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels, improving the ratio between “good” HDL levels and lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. If you enjoy a good trail mix with sunflower seeds, you’re also fortifying your body with vitamin E, an antioxidant that can help protect against the sun’s UV rays.

Oily, Fatty Fish

Eating the proper ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids is necessary for optimal health. While both fatty acids are essential, the standard Western diet overemphasizes omega-6 fatty foods (they’re in vegetable oils, which infiltrate our foods as additives), and downplays omega-3s, which are found in abundance in oily fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel.

Omega-3 fatty acids help lower inflammation, and subsequently rates of dementia, heart disease, and arthritis. Salmon is abundant in astaxanthin, a powerful antioxidant that defends against aging. And heart-healthy sardines can help reduce the risk of developing diabetes. Sardines have the added advantage of being on the bottom of the food chain, meaning they are less likely to contain toxins they themselves have consumed (as may be the case with larger fish, which have higher mercury levels).

Access to fresh fish is not always easy to come by or affordable for those who live far inland. Luckily a fish oil supplement is easy to find and can help improve your joint health as well.

Fermented Foods

Fermented veggies like kimchi and sauerkraut along with fermented dairy products like kefir and Greek yogurt carry healthy probiotic bacteria. While prebiotic foods contain fiber for your existing good gut bacteria to digest, probiotic foods introduce new live cultures of beneficial gut bacteria to support healthy digestion, detox efforts, and immune system functioning.

Sweet Potatoes

Don’t just pull out sweet potatoes for your fall menu. These spuds are some of the healthiest carbs around. As we pointed out at the top of this list, while it’s good to lower your intake of carbs (and the fast sugars that come with them), it’s not recommended to eliminate carbs entirely. Carbohydrates in fruits, starchy veggies, and foods like sweet potatoes can provide many beneficial nutrients. Particularly the skin of sweet potatoes contains concentrations of the anti-cancer compound anthocyanin, another valuable asset to staying young and healthy.

Red Wine and Dark Chocolate

Treats like red wine and dark chocolate contain useful nutrients too, specifically resveratrol, an anti-aging antioxidant. Consumed in moderation, the nutrients in the grapes that make red wine and the cacao nibs that make up the majority of dark chocolate provide protection against the age-accelerating damage of free radicals.

Mushrooms

It’s strange but true: while mushrooms are grown in dampness and dark, if you place them in sunlight after harvesting, they soak up vitamin D from the sun just like human skin does. In fact, they soak up so much that 3.5 ounces of mushrooms can provide you 130-450 IUs of vitamin D you need, so you don’t have to spend so much time in the sun or suffer the signs of aging that can come from sun damage.

Dark Berries and Fruits

Raspberries, blueberries, and pomegranates have deep coloring in common, as well as certain antioxidant concentrations that can greatly benefit your health. Pomegranates have enjoyed a recent hey-day as a superfood, but dark berries like blue and blackberries bring the same level of nutrition to every smoothie, yogurt, or dessert that includes them. These fruits’ concentrations of vitamin A, vitamin C, and the antioxidant anthocyanin all work to help prevent chronic conditions from gaining a foothold. They also help increase collagen production for more supple, youthful skin.

Avocados

Avocados are one of the most well-known and versatile healthy fats in a low-carb dieter’s kitchen. Delicious and creamy, they can be eaten as a veggie dip, utilized as a healthy spread, and turned into smoothies and dairy-free ice creams, all while providing you with vitamin A that protects your skin cells and omega-3 fatty acids that help your heart.

Carrots

Famous for improving eye health thanks to their beta-carotene content, carrots do even more to help preserve your youth and vitality. One study found a correlation between carotenoid consumption and romantic appeal and attraction. And if it’s health effects you’re after, the vitamin A in carrots protects your skin from viruses, bacteria, and the potential ravages of aging.

Turmeric

Speaking of brilliantly orange foods, turmeric and its active compound curcumin are famous natural remedies for inflammation, helping to ameliorate significant inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Time and time again, in study after study, turmeric exhibits proven pain-relieving attributes and anti-inflammatory capabilities. So if you’re looking to reverse aging with diet, you definitely want to pepper turmeric into your food routine. Add a dash of black pepper to increase bioavailability!

Tomatoes

The tomato is a fruit used in culinary capacities as a vegetable, but no matter how you slice it, the lycopene content inside tomatoes provides valuable disease resistance, specifically against osteoporosis, which affects 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men over the age of 50. Along with the health benefits of lycopene, tomatoes provide B vitamins like niacin and folate, vitamin C, and vitamin K. Here’s a pro-tip for eating: add a little olive oil to help increase the nutrient absorption in your body.

Beets

Last but not least, maybe it’s appropriate that beets have the approximate shape of a heart, because the nitrates they contain help improve arterial health and blood pressure, as well as help reduce inflammation like so many other anti-aging foods on this list. The nitric oxide content also helps protect your kidneys, and the rich color of beets makes for a beautiful presentation whether in a smoothie or on your plate.

Aging Can Be Reversed

While you can’t turn back time, you can reverse the symptoms of aging that come from the slow-down of processes like autophagy. With the right supplies in your diet and an active lifestyle, you can easily be in better shape at 60 than you were at 30, when, in the brazenness of youth, many people don’t take proper care of themselves. Damage done by poor diets or unhealthy lifestyles can be reversed, and the more you know about how to best strengthen your body, the better prepared you are to improve with age.