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Can amino acids have side effects?

Perhaps you have already had positive experiences with the supplementary intake of amino acids. You may have found that the protein building blocks help you lose weight. As an athlete, you subjectively associate the feeling of a performance-enhancing effect with more protein. But even if you want to use a dietary supplement containing the protein building blocks for the first time, you may ask about potential side effects at this point.

In this article, we will introduce you to amino acids and their effects. You will also receive information about possible interactions and side effects.

Amino acids: What exactly are they?

Amino acids are also known as protein building blocks. About 20 of them form the group of proteinogenic amino acids. They are the basis for the body’s own protein. They form chains of different lengths, which are called either proteins or peptides, depending on their length. The proteinogenic protein building blocks are further subdivided. Eight of them cannot be formed by the body itself.

They are called essential amino acids and must be supplied to the human organism with food. Non-essential protein building blocks are composed of other substances. Semi-essential protein building blocks are only formed by the human organism itself in certain phases of life.

In general, protein building blocks are not only the basis for building the body’s own tissue. The body also uses them to produce hormones, enzymes and important messenger substances. These are indispensable for signal transmission between the nerves.

Different forms

Important to know: protein building blocks can also be differentiated according to whether they are left- or right-handed. The left-turning amino acids are useful for the human organism. You can recognise this form in the name by the preceding L- as in L-Tryptophan. Right-turning forms of amino acids mainly have a rather harmful, sometimes even toxic effect.

Each protein building block can be attributed to further properties and the resulting potential interactions and side effects. Some differ in pH value, i.e. they are either basic or acidic. Some contain sulphur. Some are soluble in water, others are not. Different protein building blocks can be converted into carbohydrates, others cannot.

The protein building blocks differ not only in their effect but also in their biochemical structure. For example, Leucine, Isoleucine, Valine have a special branched structure and are therefore called Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs).

Aminocarbonsäuren haben unterschiedliche Formen

How and where do the protein building blocks work?

In addition to the approximately 20 proteinogenic protein building blocks mentioned above, there are well over 100 other amino acids. Their effect is manifold.

Protein building blocks and thus proteins are the basis for

  • muscles and tendons.
  • skin.
  • organs.
  • hormones.
  • neurotransmitters like serotonin.
  • substances that determine the function of our immune system.
  • enzymes and thus for the most diverse metabolic processes.
  • parts of the thyroid gland function.

This list is not exhaustive. At this point, it is not yet considered that the building blocks interact with each other in a variety of ways. Therefore, it is often important that especially the essential protein building blocks are absorbed by the body at the same time. They can be almost completely converted into the body’s own protein, but only if they are all available at the same time.

Important to know: Protein building blocks are converted into a variety of other substances in the human organism. This is what determines the effect and significance of this group of substances for our performance, health and vitality. A deficiency of protein building blocks can become noticeable in many parts of the organism.

Then it often initially leads to very unspecific symptoms. The sufficient supply of the body with protein is particularly important.

Perhaps you have experienced that your body has broken down its own protein even on a strict calorie-reduced diet.

Such a breakdown is a sure sign that not enough protein has been supplied. As a result, dietary efforts are usually in vain due to muscle loss. This potential side effect of a low-protein diet can attack the body’s own tissue.

Amino acid interactions

Some amino acids compete for certain receptors in the human nervous system. In some cases, they must be in a certain proportion to each other.

If, for example, an amino acid is taken in high doses in isolation, this can have an effect. Because then not enough attention is paid to the other protein building blocks. At this point, the complexity of the tasks of the protein building blocks plays a role again.

They complement each other in their effect and interact with each other.

Interesting for you: It is important to note that different protein building blocks are supplied to the organism in a certain ratio if possible. Make sure that you do not take up too much total protein. However, an oversupply of protein is rather rare, as you have an increased need for protein in many life situations.

In the case of certain pre-damages of some organs such as the kidneys, there may be increased side-effects in the intake of protein.

In these rare cases, you should consult your doctor about protein building blocks and protein in your diet.

Sich über Nebenwirkung von Nahrungsergänzungsmitteln informieren

A concrete example – Lysine, Arginine and herpes

You will often suffer from the annoying cold sores on your lips, also known as fever blisters (herpes simplex). Then you probably know the amino acid Lysine. The viruses of the herpes family have developed a very successful survival strategy in the human organism. Once infected, they rest in human nerve cells until a weak immune system provides an opportunity for the disease to break out again.

To date, it has not been possible to remove the herpes viruses from the nerve cells definitively after the initial infection. Treatment is usually carried out symptomatically in the case of cold sores by means of appropriate ointments, in the case of more severe outbreaks also by means of tablets. The active ingredient Aciclovir is usually used.

Interaction between Lysine and Arginine

Researchers realised some time ago that the herpes viruses need the amino acid arginine to spread. Lysine and Arginine compete with each other when it comes to filling certain transmitter and receptor sites. Experience has shown that Lysine can have a preventive effect in the event of a relapse of herpes. In addition, it can also support the faster healing of an acute infection site. Lysine seems to displace Arginine in the metabolism of the virus.

On the other hand, many positive effects have been described for Arginine in the human organism. Arginine has an effect on our nitrogen metabolism. Nitrogen, in turn, is a decisive factor for vascular tension. Sufficiently available nitrogen can dilate vessels, which can have a lowering effect on blood pressure.

Many men also report a positive effect on their potency by taking Arginine. Strength athletes associate an increased pumping effect with this amino acid. Lysine, on the other hand, partly causes a narrowing of the blood vessels.

If you want to take Arginine and Lysine as a dietary supplement, a certain ratio of the two amino acids to each other has been proven. In addition, they should not be taken in isolation but together to avoid side effects. Another interesting amino acid in this combination is Ornithine.

The three amino acids Arginine, Ornithine and Lysine are considered to be ideally dosed in the ratio 4:3:4. This should also prevent herpes viruses from being activated by too much Arginine. Nevertheless, all the positive effects of the amino acids involved can be brought to bear.

Side effects and interactions with drugs

Amino acids are natural substances. With a normal metabolic state and intake via food, no interactions and side effects are usually to be expected. Protein components take over a multitude of functions in the organism. Therefore, in connection with the intake of pharmaceuticals, there may be interactions and side effects.

Drugs have a more intensive effect or their effect is weakened. In addition, some protein building blocks influence the effects of others.

Auf Einnahme zusammen mit anderen Medikamenten achten

When talking about protein building blocks and interactions with drugs, the focus is usually not on the structural effect of the proteinogenic building blocks. We have already learned that protein building blocks also form the basis of various messenger substances in the brain, for example.

Protein building blocks are involved in many different remodelling and formation processes for other substances in the human organism. Thus, side effects and interactions can occur when certain drugs also influence the formation of these other substances.

The same applies if certain protein building blocks occupy receptors in the nervous system during signal transmission, which in turn are addressed by synthetic drugs.

L-Tryptophan and serotonergic antidepressants

Some diseases, such as various forms of depression, are associated with serotonin metabolism in the brain. The messenger substance Serotonin is formed from the amino acid L-Tryptophan.

Serotonin exerts a decisive influence on our mood, calmness and sleep. In some forms of depression, it is assumed that insufficient serotonin is produced or that existing Serotonin is broken down too quickly.

So-called serotonergic drugs slow down the breakdown of Serotonin in the brain, for example, and are supposed to improve the mood of the person affected. If these drugs are taken with the amino acid L-Tryptophan, an excess of Serotonin may be produced.

The consequences are then side effects. Here, the life-threatening Serotonin syndrome threatens with hyperactivity, an increase in blood pressure, muscle cramps and, in severe cases, circulatory collapse.

The amino acid L-Tryptophan must therefore not be taken with these specific antidepressants.

MAO inhibitors and L-Tyrosine

A certain group of drugs – the MAO (monoamine oxidase) inhibitors – are also used as antidepressants and in Parkinson’s disease. They act not only on the messenger substance Serotonin, but also on Noradrenaline and Dopamine. They block a certain enzyme that is responsible for the breakdown of the messenger substances mentioned. MAO inhibitors interact with a substance called Tyramine. Tyramine is a breakdown product of the amino acid L-Tyrosine.

Tyramine ensures, in particular, the increased release of Noradrenaline.

Already common food like

  • salami,
  • avocados,
  • cheese,
  • curd cheese,
  • red wine and chocolate

can be very rich in Tyramine.

If you have to take MAO inhibitors, care should be taken with the additional intake of the amino acid L-Tyrosine. An excess of Noradrenaline can lead to a significant rise in blood pressure with potentially life-threatening consequences.

Important: The described interactions and side effects are examples of possible interactions between a drug and an amino acid. Consult a doctor in advance. Then you are always on the safe side with the additional supply of amino acids. This applies in any case if you have to take different medicines regularly. In most cases, protein components do not have any effect here.

Nevertheless, in case of doubt, you should not rely on your own experience, but make sure you are clear about this in advance. Side effects are not caused by the amino acid as such but result from the combination with a synthetic drug.

Aminosäuren Nebenwirkungen

The dosage of amino acids

The question of side effects is related to the dosage when taking amino acids. The total protein requirement in humans is fluctuating. Stress, illness, age and sporting exertion can lead to a considerable additional requirement. There are also certain empirical values for the individual essential amino acids for daily requirements.

Here, too, the requirement fluctuates somewhat:

  • Leucine 10 to 50 mg
  • Valine 26 mg
  • Isoleucine 20 mg
  • Lysine 30 to 64 mg
  • Phenylalanine 38 to 52 mg
  • Threonine 16 mg
  • Methionine 21 mg
  • Tryptophan 4 mg

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has looked into the needs and set certain minimum values.

Within the framework of these recommendations, there should be no side effects due to an excessive intake of protein. Unless there are other circumstances.

High-quality food supplements with protein building blocks

High-quality, standardised food supplements follow the corresponding recommendations for the dosage of amino acids. Choose a product that contains all essential protein building blocks or several well-combined amino acids – such as our German-made amino4u. Then the probability of side effects is very low.

The amino acids and their effects are coordinated here.

Something else only applies if you have to take certain drugs as described above or if you are organically pre-damaged. Food supplements in the premium range are based on the latest scientific findings for the optimal interaction of the protein building blocks. They are designed in such a way that normally no side effects occur.

So make your own potentially positive experience with amino acids and their effects. The risk is rather low due to the described side effects.

Maik Thies (Fitnessfachwirt IHK)

Unser Ernährungsexperte Maik Thies arbeitet seit 2011 erfolgreich als Personalcoach und Manager für Fitness- & Freizeitanlagen im Gesundheitsmarkt.

Als Fitnessfachwirt und Weltmeister im Bodybuilding gibt er sein Wissen an Menschen weiter, die körperliche und mentale Grenzen neu definieren möchten und Wert auf gesunde und ausgewogene Ernährung legen. Zu seinen Kunden zählen u.a. Skeleton Atlethen Janine Becker und Alexander Gassner, Bobpilotin Stephanie Schneider, Rallye Motorsportler Sepp Wiegand etc.

Er unterstützt amino4u dabei, die Prozesse des Körpers für Sie einfach und verständlich zu erklären und Ihnen dadurch die Möglichkeit zu geben, wieder mehr Gesundheit und Lebensfreude zu erlangen.

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