Science Short

Could dropping specific amino acids from diet be key to weight loss?

By Nathan Gray contact

- Last updated on GMT

iStock / george tsartsianidis
iStock / george tsartsianidis

Related tags: Amino acids, Nutrition

Forget counting calories? New research suggests that a diet low in BCAAs may help weight loss and combat the metabolic problems that occur in diabetes and obesity.

Writing in the Journal of Physiology​, the team behind the new mouse study report that lowering the consumption of specific types of amino acids called branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) improved metabolic health, even when overall calories were not reduced.

“We've identified an unanticipated role for dietary BCAAs in the regulation of energy balance, and we show that a diet with low levels of BCAAs promotes leanness and good control of blood sugar,”​ said Dr Dudley Lamming from the University of Wisconsin-Madison – one of the lead investigators on the project.

The study found that feeding obese, pre-diabetic mice a specialised diet low in the amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine promoted leanness and improved the regulation of blood sugar.

Importantly, mice in this study were free to eat as much of the low-BCAA food as they wanted, and so did not experience overall calorie reduction, noted the team.

Yet despite continuing to eat an unhealthy high-fat and high-sugar diet, mice on the low-BCAA diet still experienced an improvement in metabolic health.

“Our results also suggest that the specific amino acid composition of dietary protein - not just how much protein we eat - regulates metabolic health,” ​said Lamming.

The team behind the mouse study said if these results can be translated to humans, it is possible that such diets, or drugs that mimic the effect of a low-BCAA diet, would be easier for people to follow and more effective than traditional calorie-counting diets.

They now hope low-BCAA dietary approach could be an effective way to treat or prevent metabolic syndrome, and will next investigate whether reducing dietary BCAAs can improve the metabolic health of humans, and how the specific amino acid composition of dietary protein regulates metabolic health.

“Our results link dietary BCAAs to the regulation of metabolic health and energy balance in obese animals, and suggest that specifically reducing dietary BCAAs may represent a highly translatable option for the treatment of obesity and insulin resistance,”​ they concluded.

Source: The Journal of Physiology
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1113/JP275075
“Restoration of metabolic health by decreased consumption of branched-chain amino acids”
Authors: Nicole E. Cummings, et al

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