Regardless of their level of biological knowledge, virtually everyone knows the importance of the body’s immune system, that network of cells and tissues that works to keep us healthy by fighting off invaders. What’s less well-known, however, is the way in which intense bouts of exercise can compromise the immune system to a certain extent, potentially leaving athletes more vulnerable to infection and common diseases. One method that’s been suggested for helping with this problem is the use of amino acids, since these compounds have well-documented effects on the body’s immune response, but do amino acids help protect your immune system? To find out, keep reading as the team at aminoVITAL®, makers of amino acid supplements for athletes, provide some insight on the matter.
How Amino Acids Function in the Immune System
Like every other system in the body, the immune system is incredibly complex, and it relies on the interplay between a variety of chemicals and tissues to function properly. Among these critical compounds are a number of different amino acids, but a few particular ones play an outsized role in keeping our immunities strong. Below, we’ll look at some of the most important amino acids work in this system, namely the amino acids glutamine, arginine, and the three branched-chain amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
Use of Glutamine in the Immune System
Of all the amino acids in the immune system, glutamine is probably the most well-known, since it plays many roles in keeping the system running. One of the most crucial ways it does this is by providing a fuel source for the production of new immune cells, especially those that operate in the digestive system1. Since the gut is one of the most common entry points for germs, glutamine’s benefits for helping protect the body via the immune system cannot be overstated. In addition, glutamine is necessary for a number of processes2 linked to immune health, which are linked to everything from tissue production to immune cell survival. Because the level of glutamine available in the bloodstream tends to drop after exercise, there are some who consider this amino acid critical to protect the immune systems of athletes.
Immune Functions of Arginine
Unlike glutamine, the benefits of arginine for the immune system are somewhat less direct. That’s because this amino acid doesn’t play a role in immune functions itself; rather, it’s used to produce a compound – nitric oxide, or NO – that’s crucial for a number of processes in the body, from regulating blood flow and insulin secretion to activating the immune system2. This boost in blood flow is one reason arginine is favored by athletes, but those concerned with their overall health will also appreciate the fact that it can help counter the depressive effects of exercise on the immune system.
BCAAs and the Immune System
Although the relationship between the branched-chain amino acids and the immune system is not as well-understood as some relationships between amino acids and this system, research3 has clearly shown that these compounds are indisputably essential to a proper immune response. So far, the prevailing theory is that BCAAs support the immune system in much the same way that they support muscle tissue during and after exercise: by contributing the building blocks of proteins that are critical to the functions of these systems. In the case of the immune system, BCAAs are used to make immunoglobulins, cytokines, and other substances, while they’re used in the process of muscle protein synthesis after exercise.
Can BCAAs Help Protect the Immune System After Exercise?
Because of their effectiveness at aiding the production of immune cells, combined with their benefits for those who exercise, BCAAs have been a natural choice for research into how athletes can improve their immune responses after a long, intense workout. One study4, for instance, looked at the effects of these amino acids on the immune systems of long-distance runners and triathletes. The researchers in the study looked at factors like glutamine levels and lymphocyte (white blood cell) proliferation before and after exercise, both with and without a BCAA supplement, and ultimately concluded that these amino acids helped the immune system recover more quickly.
Further research into whether branched-chain amino acids help protect your immune system supports this theory. Numerous studies2 have indicated that BCAAs have protective effects, either by improving the body’s use of antioxidants, reducing inflammation, or supporting the functions of white blood cells. While this research is still ongoing, and the effects of BCAAs on the immune system are still not perfectly clear, there is considerable scientific evidence to support other benefits of BCAAs for athletes and fitness fans, including the boosts they can provide in muscle growth and recovery and mid-workout endurance. It’s for these reasons that everyone from casual gym-goers to professional bodybuilders turn to BCAAs for nutritional support, which has led amino acid supplements like those from aminoVITAL® to experience an explosion in popularity in recent years.
Try an Amino Acid Supplement from aminoVITAL® to Enhance Performance and Recovery After Exercise
Getting the most out of your exercise routine is rarely easy, but amino acid supplements from aminoVITAL® can provide the support your body needs to grow, recover, and maybe even protect your immune system. Our products offer all three BCAAs along with arginine and glutamine – amino acids often associated with immune and muscle health. Learn more about our lean, fast-acting mid- and post-workout supplements today by visiting us online or calling (888) 264-6673.