Supplements containing branched-chain amino acids are taken to treat a wide variety of conditions. They are perhaps best known for their effect on muscle formation and control, but are also often taken to improve nutrition.

Amino acids are naturally occurring molecules which combine to create protein. Protein is an essential part of our nutrition: needed for our internal organs, our brains, our muscles, and also our immune system.

We get some amino acids—essential amino acids–from food, and others—non-essential amino acids–are synthesized in our bodies. A healthy diet must contain amino acids.

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are essential amino acids. They are found in meat, dairy products, eggs, soy protein, and legumes. Vegans must therefore make sure they are getting enough BCAAs if their diets do not contain any animal proteins. BCAAs are also available as supplements.

BCAA supplements for muscle control

Athletes sometimes use branched-chain amino acids to improve performance, as the amino acids prevent muscle breakdown during intense exercise.

The muscle control properties of BCAAs mean that they are also used for people with advanced liver disease. Advanced liver disease can cause a reduction in muscle control. Similarly, some antipsychotic medications affect muscle control, and BCAAs may be taken by patients to reduce these unwanted muscle movements.

BCAAs are sometimes taken by people confined to bed, as BCAAs prevent muscle wasting.

Warnings for BCAA supplements

You should not take supplements without discussing them with you doctor, particularly if you are taking any medications. Some BCAAs could interact with your medications. For example, BCAAs could lower blood sugar, which could interact with diabetes medications.

Levodopa also interacts with BCAAs, so if you are taking this drug (for example, for Parkinson’s disease) you must consult with your doctor before taking BCAA supplements.

Sources: WebMD Branched-chain amino acids