Cardiac atrophy–the wasting of the heart muscles–can lead to a variety of cardiovascular conditions. But supplementing with branched-chain amino acids (BCAA), along with a program of exercise, can restore the heart and promote circulation again.

Cardiac atrophy is usually caused by prolonged bed rest, though astronauts living in microgravity are affected by atrophy.  People with congenital heart disease may also develop cardiac atrophy.

This atrophy means the heart muscles are deteriorating. They shrink, and the heart loses volume. As the muscles waste, the heart loses strength, and blood pressure is affected. This weakens the entire cardiovascular system. The reduced blood pressure results in orthostatic hypotension, where the brain isn’t getting enough blood, often resulting in dizziness, lightheadedness, and even fainting. But can BCAA supplements help?

Prolonged bed rest therefore is not good for the heart. However, it is prescribed for several medical conditions, including some complications in pregnancy. Coma and stroke patients, too, often spend long periods supine. BCAA supplementation was tested in a study for cardiac atrophy.

TA Dorfman, BD Levine, et al, researchers at the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine, Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas, USA, developed a study to examine the effects of exercise and nutritional supplementation of proteins and branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) on women with cardiac atrophy.

Healthy volunteers were recruited. Their heart volumes were measured, then they were subjected to 60 days of 6 degrees head-down tilt bed rest. They were divided into exercise and BCAA supplement groups, and a control group.

Does BCAA help prevent cardiac atrophy?

The control group all suffered cardiac atrophy due to the prolonged bed rest. Both left ventricular and right ventricular volumes in their hearts were decreased. The exercise group, who used a supine treadmill, had no atrophy. The protein and BCAA supplement group also saw no reduction in either left or right ventricular mass. However, with the group who received only BCAA supplementation, and no exercise, the heart did lose some volume.

In conclusion, exercise is absolutely vital to prevent cardiac atrophy in long-duration bed rest. BCAA supplements are beneficial, especially when combined with an exercise program.