Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are said to be very beneficial, especially to those looking to lose weight and gain muscle.
However, there are a few possible side effects of BCAAs.
Some are cardiovascular, and others are related to cancer and diabetes.
In this article, we’ll explain what BCAAs are and the potential adverse side effects.
We’ll also discuss BCAA and cancer.
What are BCAAs?
According to the National Library of Medicine, BCAAs are a class of essential amino acids that are found in large amounts in muscle proteins.
The body metabolizes them to generate energy for muscle tissue. Each amino acid has its own individual physiological effect.
Some essential amino acids are capable of creating protein, while others are not.
Types of BCAA Essential Amino Acids
There are three different types of BCAAs; leucine, valine, and isoleucine.
All three affect muscle growth and exercise.
Many gym-goers, fitness fanatics, and bodybuilders looking to increase muscle mass and strength use some form of branched-chain amino acid.
How do We Get BCAAs?
Branched-chain amino acids are essential nutrients that are derived from protein in our diets.
They are essential to the body, as they stimulate the building of proteins and decrease muscle breakdown.
However, similar to other essential amino acids, your body cannot produce these BCAAs naturally, so they must be sourced from our diet by eating protein-rich foods.
You may also use BCAA supplements in the form of whey protein powders and pills.
The Main Functions of Branched Chain Amino Acids
BCAAs fulfill three different roles in the body:
- provide the building blocks for muscle protein synthesis
- act as a fuel source when catabolized by trichloroacetic acid
- stimulate cellular signaling through the mTOR pathway.
By uncoupling insulin signaling and regulating protein translation, BCAAs are essential for growth and health.
Because of those three main functions, these essential amino acids are capable of aiding muscle growth, reducing muscle soreness, and reducing muscle damage.
There are also other potential beneficial effects of BCAAs on the body, but further research is needed to validate them.
BCAA Side Effects
1) Cardiovascular Diseases
Although study suggests that BCAAs may help prevent cardiovascular diseases by protecting the myocardium from plaque build-up, BCAAs may have some side effects on cardiovascular diseases.
Some studies suggest that a chemical compound called BT2 may help reinforce BCAA metabolism in the heart. However, further studies are needed to confirm this theory.
These essential amino acids are associated with heart failure. In animal models, researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that BCAA intake had an adverse effect on cardiac health.
Animals were fed a BCAA-enriched meal during the evening hours, which caused the heart to grow dramatically.
In addition, high BCAA intake worsened the progression of cardiovascular disease.
In a prospective study, metabolites of BCAAs were associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease in women and men compared to those who did not take BCAA supplements.
Research has shown that BCAAs can be toxic to cancer cells, despite their essential role in energy homeostasis.
BCAAs regulate a variety of biological processes, including lipogenesis, energy metabolism, and nutrient signaling.
Recent metabolic analysis of breast cells with gene mutations showed elevated BCAA levels.
The increased BCAA levels suggest a role for BCAAs in the development of this cancer type. However, further research is needed to understand the role of BCAAs in cancer.
There is some conflicting evidence regarding the relationship between dietary BCAAs and diabetes.
While dietary BCAAs have a positive effect on insulin sensitivity, there is also evidence that a branched-chain amino acid may increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
The levels of these essential amino acids in the blood may be affected by an individual’s metabolism, as well as alterations in the function of the power source of a cell.
Researchers have yet to find a conclusive link between dietary BCAAs and type 2 diabetes, but they have demonstrated positive associations with insulin sensitivity and glycemic control.
Although it is unclear whether dietary BCAA supplementation can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, genetic susceptibility has been implicated in some studies.
Many people wonder whether BCAA supplements cause fatigue. The answer to this question depends on the cause.
Intake of BCAAs may increase your energy levels and delay the effects of fatigue due to its effect on muscle protein.
However, some people are sensitive to BCAAs, and some experience both a lack of energy and fatigue. In either case, it’s best to consult a medical professional before taking any supplements.
5) Loss of Coordination
BCAA supplements can decrease the amount of tryptophan in the brain. This can reduce brain activity and coordination.
It is unclear exactly how this happens. But medical professionals believe that BCAA supplements can cause dehydration, leading to a reduction of coordination and other cognitive abilities.
6) Stomach Problems
There are some reports from BCAA supplement users complaining of stomach problems.
For varied reasons, some individuals may have difficulty digesting BCAA supplements and consuming spices, probiotics, and digestive enzymes.
One of the main factors linked to the inability to properly tolerate BCAA supplements is that many of them contain additives that cause diarrhea, bloating, nausea, vomiting, etc.
It is important to check the label of your supplement to ensure that it does not contain these additives.
If you suspect that your supplement is causing stomach problems, you may want to switch brands or choose a different brand.
The list of ingredients and the formulation of the product will tell you if the supplement is causing your problems.
Potentially troubling ingredients
- citric acid
6) Other Suspected Side Effects of Branched Chain Amino Acid
Branched-chain amino acids can cause more side effects other than the ones explained above. Some others include:
- weight gain
- low blood sugar
BCAA supplements provide the body with amino acids that carry out essential functions to aid with muscle protein synthesis and the breakdown of fatty acids to enhance muscle mass.
However, BCAA supplements, especially if used in excess and for a prolonged period, may cause harmful side effects, including but not limited to insulin resistance, gastrointestinal issues, fatigue, cancer, and diabetes.
These amino acids must be used with caution, and if you have an underlying medical condition, you should avoid using protein supplements with them unless you have been cleared to do so by a healthcare professional.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Are BCAAs toxic?
BCAAs are not necessarily toxic. However, if you overdose, then it could have toxic effects.
Can I use them while pregnant?
We do not advise its use while pregnant or breastfeeding. It is best to speak with your healthcare provider before using BCAA supplements or protein supplements with these amino acids.
What can I use instead of BCAAs?
You can substitute BCAAs for foods containing protein and use protein supplements that are BCAA-free.
Is it OK to take it every day?
It is best to cycle on and off these amino acids. Prolonged use can lead to adverse effects and dependency.
What is the ideal BCAA dose?
Research has shown that the ideal dose of supplemental BCAA for healthy adults is 4-20 g per day.