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Fuel the Muscles With the Amino Acid L-Alanine

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Author: Darrell Miller

L-Alanine is one of 20 amino acids that are used by the body to manufacture the proteins essential for life. Each protein possesses specific biological properties that are imparted by the sequence of amino acids it contains. Proteins control the chemistry that takes place within the cells of our body, and comprise all of the enzymes that catalyze the body's biochemistry.

Amino acids are also the building blocks of DNA that determines the genetic make-up of individuals, and that also provides recipes or templates for the production of proteins from amino acid sequences. There is a different DNA template for every protein required by the body that determines which of the 20 amino acids are needed, and in what order they are to be combined with one another to manufacture the desired protein.

10 of these 20 amino acids can be synthesized by your body's biochemistry, the other 10 being essential parts of your diet. If you fail to include just of these 10, then your body will break down its proteins until it has obtained a sufficient supply of that amino acids for its needs. That involves muscle and other tissue degradation, and is one of the symptoms of malnutrition. Amino acids are not stored, and a daily supply is essential to avoid these symptoms.

L-Alanine is one of the ten that the body can manufacture, and used by the body to help build protein and also to enable the body to make use of glucose to generate energy. It does so as part of what is known as the glucose-alanine cycle. During anaerobic exercise, such as in weightlifting and sustained running, muscles produce lactate and also alanine.

The alanine is passed on to the liver where it is converted to energy via its conversion to glucose. This is not a particularly efficient means of creating energy because a byproduct of the process is urea, the removal of which in turn requires energy. However, it serves its purpose as an energy source once the liver is depleted of glycogen. In fact that is the major use to which alanine appears to be put by the body: the conversion of glucose to energy.

The way the glucose-alanine cycle works is that a process known as transamination produces glutamate from the amino groups of amino acids that are degraded during exercise. Glutamate is then converted to pyruvate by means of the enzyme alanine aminotransferase, with the production of alanine and alpha-ketoglutarate. This is a reversible reaction, and after the alanine has been carried by the bloodstream to the liver, the reaction reverses with the regeneration of pyruvate that undergoes gluconeogenesis (generation of glucose).

The result of this is glucose that returns to the muscle tissue to provide more energy. The glutamate is broken down to the ammonium ion in the mitochondria, which in turn enters the urea cycle with the production of urea.

In a nutshell, then, the glucose-alanine cycle removes glutamate and pyruvate from muscle tissue to the liver where glucose is generated from the pyruvate and returned to the muscle. Since gluconeogenesis involves the expenditure of energy, and this occurs in the liver rather than in the muscle, all the energy in the muscle can be used for muscle contraction.

L-Alanine possesses other properties, among them the ability to help maintain the health of the prostate. A study of benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlarged prostate) indicated that treatment with L-alanine, glutamic acid and glycine over a period of three months reduced the symptoms. However, make sure that you consult your physician before using alanine in this way. This is not because there are any known adverse side effects, because there are not, but because it I always wise to so with any supplement taken with a view to treating any medical condition.

A less obvious application derives from the fact that it forms a stable free radical when deaminated. Deamination can be initiated by radiation, and so the concentration of this free radical can be measured to ensure that the correct dose of radiation is being given in dosimetric radiotherapy. It is not always easy to control the dose accurately, and this property of alanine allows it to monitored and to ensure that it is neither too low to have the desired effect, nor dangerously high.

Although it is a non-essential amino acid, and can be produced by the body, a dietary supply or supplement is advantageous if extra energy is required. Good dietary sources of L-alanine include meats, seafood, eggs, nuts, beans, seeds, brewer's yeast, corn and legumes among others. Supplements are also available, and useful for body-builders, weightlifters and others involved in anaerobic exercise. Due to the glucose-alanine cycle, it can possibly provide energy when lactate build-up would otherwise lead to muscle cramps.

Those for whom a supplement could be useful are athletes and others who are trying to build muscle and stamina, or reduce their body fat and also the obese and overweight for the same reason. There is also evidence that a combination of the amino acids alanine, glycine and arginine can help to reduce arterial plaque from oxidized low density lipoproteins, and can also help to reduce high blood pressure.

Deficiencies are rare, although groups that do not eat meat should be careful to eat foods with a good alanine content. There are no known side effects of a deficiency since the body will generate what is needed for normal purposes, and while the supplement appears to have no side effects, it is advisable that pregnant and lactating women should first seek medical advice. The same applies if you suffer from hypertension or diabetes. High doses of alanine might also affect those with kidney or liver disease.

Although the benefits of supplementation of L-alanine might not be immediately obvious, the results and the science indicate that it is effective in making better use of blood glucose in that the adenosine triphosphate (ATP) created in the muscle tissue is allowed to be expended on muscle contraction while the glucose-alanine cycle provides the energy needed for gluconeogenesis.

More information on L-Alanine is available at VitaNet ®, LLC Health Food Store.


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