5 Reasons For Amino Acid Deficiency
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, many of us learn that in biology growing up. To paint a more in depth picture, amino acids are actually involved in many critical body processes from building muscle to synthesizing important neurotransmitters like GABA and dopamine.
When you digest any food with protein in it, you are breaking it down into these important amino acid compounds. Amino acid deficiency is something that too often gets overlooked, so in this article I’m going to cover the top 5 reasons that someone could become deficient.
The amino acids have been specifically studied for important roles they play in the body. For example, the branched-chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) are important for muscle synthesis (1). The amino acid glutamine plays important roles in maintaining gut lining health while also promoting a relaxed mental state.
There are 20 standard amino acids derived through the diet that all serve their own important roles in the body. 11 of these amino acids are considered “non-essential” meaning they are synthesized within the body. The other 9, however, are considered “essential” and must be acquired through the diet.
One of the more obvious reasons for amino acid deficiency is the simple lack of proper nutrition. If your diet lacks the right foods with all essential amino acids, then you will not have them in your physiological arsenal.
One such diet that I often see amino acid deficiencies is a vegetarian or vegan diet. Because most foods on these diets are not complete proteins (not containing all essential amino acids), they require a little more planning to ensure adequate amounts of amino acids are absorbed into the body.
Also, a diet that relies on the chronic consumption of sugary and starchy foods and damaged fats (such as the standard American diet) can inhibit the ability of the pancreas to release proteolytic enzymes. Proteolytic enzymes are responsible for separating proteins into their individual amino acids.
Leaky Gut & Malnourishment
The lining of the gut is one layer of cells thin. This makes it very delicate but also very good at performing its function of regulating the absorption of nutrients from food. The spaces between these cells are tightly regulated to only allow certain things to pass while keeping the rest out.
When we damage these cells by consuming GMOs, foods with pesticides, chlorinated water, processed foods, taking antibiotics, or even from low-grade food sensitivities, the spaces between these cells are loosened. This is problem because larger food molecules get through into the bloodstream and the body mistakes them for foreign pathogens. This ultimately manifests in the body as sudden food allergies, autoimmunity, systemic inflammation, and malnourishment.
With a damaged gut comes poor digestion. At this point, even someone eating a clean healthy diet may not be extracting all of the important nutrients from their food.
Low Stomach Acid
A huge misinterpreted symptom in the body that I often encounter is heart burn. The traditional approach to correcting heart burn is to take something that neutralizes your elevated stomach acids levels. But what we know now is that heart burn is actually a sign of low stomach acid.
Stomach acid is what signals the esophageal sphincter (connecting the esophagus to the stomach) to close and prevent heart burn. So, the best way to mitigate heart burn is actually to support stomach acid.
Adequate stomach acid production is also critical for proper protein breakdown and amino acid absorption. Along with proteolytic enzymes from the pancreas, stomach acid must be present for proper digestion. Unfortunately, amino acids are also involved in enzyme synthesis so low stomach acid will typically also deplete digestive enzymes.
If you have acid reflux then this should be a huge indication that you need to start supporting your stomach acid production. If you do not have acid reflux but want to test your stomach acid levels, an easy at home test can help with this. Try the baking soda test outlined below and take necessary action steps depending on the outcome.
Blood Sugar Imbalance
Blood sugar imbalances lead to massive fluctuations in insulin and cortisol. When blood sugar spikes too quickly, insulin also spikes to shuttle sugar out of the blood and into the cells. This leads to a rapid drop in blood sugar and a spike in cortisol.
When your body is exposed to a stressor, cortisol will typically increase for a short period. Cortisol is catabolic, meaning it is responsible for breaking things down. After the stress has subsided, a healthy person would have a decrease in cortisol and the body would adapt and grow stronger during this rest period by repairing the damage that was done.
When cortisol is constantly spiking due to blood sugar fluctuations you get continued breakdown of tissues, chronic inflammation, and lowered ability to make important protein digesting enzymes.
The low blood sugar that occurs shortly after a high-sugar meal stimulates the body to shift into a state of gluconeogenesis (the body makes sugar from proteins). When in this state, the body rapidly degrades stored amino acids in the body, resulting in a potential deficiency much quicker (2).
Adrenal fatigue manifests in several stages but ultimately disrupts many key processes in the body. First of all, adrenal fatigue leads to cortisol dysregulation which further exaggerates detrimental effects of blood sugar imbalance. As mentioned above blood sugar imbalance can often lead to gluconeogenesis which depletes amino acids.
Furthermore, adrenal fatigue often throws off key sex hormones that regulate anabolic processes in the body. Because cortisol shares a production pathway with the sex hormones, when adrenal function is hampered and the body’s stress response is dysregulated, the body favors cortisol production.
As mentioned above, chronically elevated cortisol leads to catabolism (breakdown) of body tissues and rapid degradation of amino acids. When sex hormones are compromised, the problem is only made worse.
Solution: Supplemental EAA’s
Essential Amino acids are those which must be consumed through the diet. Whenever I have a patient who has any of the conditions outlined above or I suspect an amino acid deficiency, I recommend taking these in supplemental form.
As I mentioned, amino acids are involved in several key processes in the body. Just as one example, because of their involvement in neurotransmitter production, amino acid deficiency can really throw off your mood. This is one case where supplementing with additional EAA’s can provide powerful relief.
Although not a long-term solution, supplemental EAAs can provide very effective relief while working on the underlying issues.
Additional Benefits of EAA’s
In addition, to their therapeutic benefits, essential amino acids can actually be supplemented for additional health benefits.
Proper development of muscle tissue relies on amino acids. The branched-chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine have been specifically studied in depth for their role in muscle formation (3).
Not only does this apply to normal growth of the body throughout life, but in other muscle development special cases. One such case is when muscle breakdown occurs due to resistance exercise. Amino acid supplementation can speed recovery and support muscle growth.
Additionally, amino acid supplementation may be helpful in cases of muscle wasting such as severe adrenal fatigue or during cancer treatment.
The amino acid arginine plays an important role in bone formation and may reduce your risk of osteoporosis.
Arginine supplementation increases growth hormone and IGF-1 which both play a role in bone formation. Supplementation also increases nitric oxide in the body which is important for slowing the breakdown of bone (4). The action of these two mechanisms together act to increase bone density.
In addition to all the essential amino acids, you want to ensure you also get plenty of minerals and the vitamins D and K to ensure proper bone health.
Essential amino acids can aid weight loss in a few different ways. The amino acids arginine and lysine have been shown to support the production of growth hormone in some cases. Growth hormone has been known for some time to improve fat burning.
Additionally, lysine and methionine interact in the liver to form carnitine, an important transport molecule that moves fat into cells to be used for energy (5). This action literally improves your ability to burn fat.
Glutamine, arginine, and cysteine work to coordinate and support the immune system.
Glutamine interplays with lymphocytes and macrophages to coordinate necessary inflammatory reactions related to adaptive immunity. Arginine and cysteine both play roles in proper T-cell function (also important for adaptive immunity).
Adaptive immunity is the branch of your immune system that helps you build long-lasting defenses to pathogens like viruses and foreign bacteria. This is why most people only get the chicken pox once, their adaptive immune system has built defenses against it after the first exposure.
Deficiencies in these critical amino acids can contribute to significant immune suppression.
Circulation problems can lead to many health issues. Particularly organs that contain lots of tiny blood vessels, such as the brain, can be heavily impacted. Distal structures of the body such as the hands and feet will also be negatively impacted by poor circulation. Finally, sex organs will typically be impacted.
The amino acids arginine and citrulline may be able to boost circulation by supporting the production of nitric oxide (6). Nitric oxide is responsible for dilating blood vessels and allowing a greater amount of blood to flow through. This effect also helps to lower blood pressure.
Best Sources of EAAS
As I mentioned, amino acids come from foods with protein in them. In my opinion, the best sources of protein are sources that are low in toxins and contain a full array of amino acids.
Pasture raised meats are one of my top choices for getting a full range of amino acids while avoiding toxins that occur in conventionally raised meats. For example, beef from pasture raised cows is not only a great protein source, but also contains anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats.
Whenever buying the meat from an animal, always look for pasture-raised and organic. For beef particularly, look out for the 100% grass-fed signification. The pasture-raised certification also goes for poultry.
Whey protein from grass-fed dairy is a great source of important amino acids. This source is particularly great for building and maintaining muscle because of its high amounts of the branched chain amino acids.
In addition to coming from grass-fed dairy, you also want a cold-processed, non-denatured whey protein. The heating and processing that a lot of whey proteins go through makes it harder for our bodies to digest and absorb.
Bone broth has hit the mainstream hard the last few years and for many great reasons. Bone broth is a great source of amino acids along with gut healing nutrients like collagen and glutamine that are naturally occurring. Another huge benefit of bone broth is that most people tolerate it quite well with very little potential for allergies.
I think anyone could benefit from adding bone broth to their diet. It just has so many benefits.
You can buy already made bone broth at many grocery stores now, but there is question about quality variance between brands. You can also make your own using bones from pasture-raised animals. This method obviously requires a quality source of bones and the time needed to slow-simmer your bones.
The greatest bone broth solution to hit the market so far is bone broth protein powder. This bone broth has been dehydrated into a powdered form that contains 20 grams of protein per serving. Also, it tastes amazing. This is a great and economical way to include benefits of bone broth into our fast-paced lifestyles.
There are a few complete sources of protein for vegans such as hemp and quinoa. As someone who doesn’t recommend a lot of grains in the diet, this can be tricky. Additionally, some of my patients have dairy sensitivities that make meeting dietary protein needs difficult.
For these cases I usually recommend a high-quality pea/rice protein. I made my own formula containing pea and rice protein along with several anti-inflammatory nutrients like ginger and l-glutamine. On top of the gut healing nutrients, this protein also serves as a powerful multivitamin source. Check out the Gut Healing Protein here
In a lot of the cases that protein absorption is compromised, such as in the case of leaky gut, this combination of pea protein and gut healing nutrients can’t be beat. I use this one for many of my tough cases where digestive issues are present. After digestive issues have been resolved, I usually recommend my SuperDigest Protein for my vegan and vegetarian patients.
When it comes down to it, one of the best ways to get amino acids into the body is to ingest them in their purest form. This way, there is very little energy that goes into breaking down the protein and your body absorbs them quite readily.
I formulated Amino Strong to provide a powerful source of all essential amino acids in specific ratios for therapeutic benefits. Over 20 human trials have been conducted to arrive at this specific, patent-pending combination of amino acids in the most effective, anabolic ratios. The high absorbability of these amino acids also means greater support for the benefits mentioned above.
This is one of the primary supplements I used in my 20s when I was suffering from debilitating digestive issues and adrenal fatigue. It truly made a difference in my energy and performance and that’s why I have chosen to formulate this powerful blend.
I continue to use it today as a pre-workout powder and notice a huge difference in my strength, energy and muscle tissue development.