Branched-chain amino acids are essential nutrients that the body obtains from proteins found in food, especially meat, dairy products, and legumes. They include leucine, isoleucine, and valine. “Branched-chain” refers to the chemical structure of these amino acids. People use branched-chain amino acids for medicine.
Branched-chain amino acids are used to treat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease), brain conditions due to liver disease (chronic hepatic encephalopathy, latent hepatic encephalopathy), a movement disorder called tardive dyskinesia, a genetic disease called McArdle's disease, a disease called spinocerebellar degeneration, and poor appetite in elderly kidney failure patients and cancer patients. Branched-chain amino acids are also used to help slow muscle wasting in people who are confined to bed.
Some people use branched-chain amino acids to prevent fatigue and improve concentration.
Athletes use branched-chain amino acids to improve exercise performance and reduce protein and muscle breakdown during intense exercise.
Healthcare providers give branched-chain amino acids intravenously (by IV) for sudden brain swelling due to liver disease (acute hepatic encephalopathy) and also when the body has been under extreme stress, for example after serious injury or widespread infection.
How does it work?
Branched-chain amino acids stimulate the building of protein in muscle and possibly reduce muscle breakdown. Branched-chain amino acids seem to prevent faulty message transmission in the brain cells of people with advanced liver disease, mania, tardive dyskinesia, and anorexia.
- Improving muscle control and mental function in people with advanced liver disease (latent hepatic encephalopathy).
- Reducing muscle breakdown during exercise.
- Decreasing symptoms associated with mania.
- Reducing movements associated with tardive dyskinesia, a disorder associated with the use of antipsychotic medications.
- Reducing loss of appetite and improving nutrition in elderly patients on hemodialysis.