A branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) is an amino acid with a branch (a central carbon atom bound to three or more carbon atoms). BCAAs are three of the eight essential amino acids necessary in the diet. Other amino acids can be manufactured. A lot of this amino acid construction takes place within the mitochondria.

BCAAs are the first to be metabolized during periods of exercise and heavy immune function needs. They are known as Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine.

BCAAs have several metabolic and physiologic jobs. Metabolically, BCAAs promote protein synthesis and turnover, signaling pathways, and metabolism of glucose.

Physiologically, BCAAs take on roles in the immune system and in brain function. BCAAs have a role in mitochondrial protein synthesis, synthesis of neurotransmitters, and production of energy.

BCAA supplementation increases the life span in several well known studies.

Research shows that when supplemented with amino acids, mitochondria are better able to eliminate toxins.

Mitochondria provide components of amino acids like aspartate, asparagine, glutamate, glutamine, arginine and proline.

Supplements of vitamin C and vitamin E didn’t show health promoting effects as well as amino acid supplementation did.

Muscle mitochondrial biogenesis is upregulated with BCAA supplementation.

Important to understand is that amino acid restriction affects cell proliferation. Mitochondria are reported to fuse in respones to amino acid starvation.

Essentially they clump together to avoid autophagosomal degradation. This, in turn impedes cellular detoxification, making cells more vulnerable to toxic overload.

In fact, studies demonstrate that when BCAAs are supplemented, there is a reduction in free radical production and an increased capacity to eliminate superoxides at a mitochondrial level since superoxide dismutase activity is significantly upregulated.

In essence, starving mitochondria of essential amino acids, results in higher toxic overload and a decreased capacity to eliminate toxins from the cell.

Tissues from aging muscle shows mitochondrial dysfunction with higher levels of H2O2 generation and decreased energy production.

Since one of the jobs of mitochondria is to utilize nutrients, including amino acids, for cellular energy production, they need an ample supply of precursors from amino acid pools for anabolic pathways like building muscle and maintaining immune function.

When these resources are low or compromised, mitochondria behave frenetically by increasing their use of already low resources, clumping together and decreasing the efficiency of detoxification efforts.

Cells respond to changes in nutrient availability in order to survive periods of starvation. The survival of cells includes inhibiting anabolic process, such as protein synthesis and activating protein recycling, putting added strain on already stressed mitochondria.

Amino acid starvation enhances protein synthesis in the first 72 hours after amino acid deprivation, but this upregulation of mitochondrial activity is just a precursor for a slowdown of total activity resulting in lower energy production and higher toxic buildup.

This increased consumption of amino acids in mitochondria when cells are deprived of amino acids is not driven by a need for energy, it’s primarily to put the brakes on anabolic activity, like muscle building and immune enhancement.

So, before supplementing with antioxidants, which don’t show health promoting effects and can actually cause more toxic overload, make sure dietary protein sources are adequate and BCAAs are available for mitochondrial metabolism and optimal function.