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Do BCAAs slow down the ageing process?

The three branched-chain amino acids (branched-chain amino acids) valine, isoleucine and leucine are not only the building blocks of our body protein, but also play an important role in the metabolism of the muscle cell. Other amino acids are metabolised in the liver and arrive in the muscles with a delay. The BCAAs, on the other hand, enter the muscle tissue directly and serve as an energy supplier for the muscle. When energy intake is reduced, they protect the muscles by preventing the breakdown of the body's own protein during gluconeogenesis

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BCAAs are not only of interest to athletes, however. Studies show that leucine, isoleucine and valine are associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, overweight/obesity or ischaemic stroke. The use of BCAAs is also recommended for liver diseases. In vitro, for example, the branched-chain amino acids inhibit the proliferation of liver cancer cells. In chronic liver disease, BCAA levels are reduced. Studies show that such patients benefit from BCAA intake. The branched-chain amino acids are not only associated with health, however. According to some experts, they are even said to slow down the ageing process.

Table of contents:
  1. Why do we age?
  2. Do BCAAs prolong life?

Why do we age?

Aging is a biological process that is based on various complex causes. What exactly sets the ageing process in motion and how the individual factors are linked to each other is still a mystery. Science is therefore not (yet) able to answer the question "Why do we age?".

One approach to explaining ageing is the theory of free radicals. According to this theory, the ageing process is based on oxidative damage. We accumulate a lot of these over the course of our lives. Free radicals such as reactive oxygen species (ROS) are responsible for this. These reactive atoms and molecules can damage our cells and DNA and cause diseases such as arteriosclerosis, cancer and Alzheimer's. Free radicals enter our body from outside (e.g. through tobacco smoke, UV radiation), but are also produced during the body's own metabolic processes (for example in the mitochondrial respiratory chain).

However, our body is not defenceless against free radicals, but has efficient defence and repair mechanisms. Antioxidants such as the enzyme glutathione peroxidase or vitamins C and E act as radical scavengers and combat oxidative stress. DNA repair systems, on the other hand, ensure that existing damage is eliminated. However, even the most efficient system makes mistakes from time to time. These accumulate over the years and are thought to accelerate the ageing process.

Mitochondrial changes are also frequently discussed in this context. Mitochondria are considered the power stations of the cells. They are where energy is generated in the form of ATP (oxidative phosphorylation). Cells that require a lot of energy (e.g. muscle or nerve cells) therefore have a particularly high number of mitochondria. With increasing age, the number of mitochondria decreases due to oxidative damage in the cells. This is accompanied by functional disorders (e.g. in nerve tissue) and a loss of muscle mass.

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Do BCAAs prolong life?

Studies show that a low calorie intake leads to a longer life. Good physical fitness is also said to keep you young. Some of the mechanisms behind this have already been uncovered. For example, both calorie restriction and moderate exercise increase the expression of the receptor PGC-1α and the enzyme sirtuin 1 (SIRT1). The latter is repeatedly associated with longevity. High concentrations of sirtuin are also caused, for example, by resveratrol, the health-promoting ingredient in red wine. PGC-1α, on the other hand, is considered the main regulator of mitochondrial biogenesis and plays a central role in cellular energy metabolism. Nitric oxide production in the vascular walls is also increased during calorie restriction. Nitric oxide (NO) serves as an important signalling molecule and is also involved in mitochondrial biogenesis.

As early as 2009, Alves et al. found that BCAAs extend the lifespan of yeast. Researchers also show that BCAA administration in mice increases their average life expectancy. Mice that were given a BCAA mixture lived 12% longer than the control group. Increased mitochondrial biogenesis, PGC-1α and SIRT1 expression in the heart and skeletal muscles were observed in the animals. In addition, an activation of muscular ROS defence mechanisms was observed, which led to reduced oxidative damage. The mitochondrial release of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), a reactive oxygen species, was also lower in the skeletal muscles of the BCAA mice.

The BCAA mice also performed better than the control group in endurance and coordination tests. Further results of the study also showed that BCAAs interact with the nitric oxide (NO) metabolism. If the enzyme eNOS was inhibited in mice, the positive effect of BCAAs failed to materialise. eNOS forms NO from the amino acid arginine.

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