So, you may have heard of BCAA. Perhaps you want to know what the best BCAA might be for maximizing brain power.
Let’s take a look at what this BCAA supplement is all about and whether it is something you would even want to try for brain boosting.
What is a BCAA and How Does It Help the Body?
BCAA stands for “branched-chain amino acid.” The full definition in Wikipedia is as follows:
A branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) is an amino acid having aliphatic side-chains with a branch (a central carbon atom bound to three or more carbon atoms). Among the proteinogenic amino acids, there are three BCAAs: leucine, isoleucine and valine. Non-proteinogenic BCAAs include 2-aminoisobutyric acid.
And, unless you are already a microbiologist, none of that probably made any sense to you. And even if it did, what does that have to do with your health? And specifically, your brain health?
To get down to brass tacks, the three BCAAs (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) are three of the nine essential amino acids that humans need to function properly. An essential amino acid is one that cannot be produced by your body, so you have to get it through your diet.
We need amino acids because they are the basic building blocks that go into creating proteins. Protein, supports, among other things, muscle growth.
This is why some of the primary consumers of BCAA supplements are body builders or weight lifters. They are trying to increase their protein to help build more muscle. The reason that BCAAs are popular is that they can apparently build muscle in alternative pathways that cannot be accessed through normal protein supplements.
BCAAs may also help enhance performance and boost energy levels.
BCAA for the Brain
BCAA supplements are typically not taken for brain boosting, and not a lot of information is out there about its ability to help make you smarter.
There is some scant evidence that BCAA supplementation can help alleviate symptoms of a rare brain condition called heptatic encephalopathy, which can occur with people who have severe liver disease. Otherwise, BCAAs are not known for helping with intelligence or cognition.
What Types of BCAA Supplements Are There?
BCAA supplements are extremely popular in the world of weight lifting, and they are easy to find online and in local nutritional stores. There are two common ways athletes and body builders consume BCAAs as a supplement:
1. BCAA Powders
BCAA powders used to be unflavored and had a terrible taste, but they were made to be mixed with other protein powders. Now, they come in a variety of flavors and are easy to obtain.
2. BCAA in Capsule or Pill Form
You can also get BCAA supplements in the form of capsules or pills. Since these pills are quite large and take longer to digest than powders, they are not as popular as BCAA powders, which are considered the best BCAA supplements.
Dangers of BCAA Supplements
You would think that because we need amino acids to develop protein and muscles that more BCAAs in the diet would be good, right? Wrong.
Some research has indicated a potential link between amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and BCAA supplements among athletes. ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is the disease that physicist Stephen Hawking has had since the age of 21.
BCAAs may cause cell hyperexcitability, which can end up in cell death, and that could contribute to ALS.
BCAAs are also elevated in cases of diabetes, and reducing BCAAs can help improve glucose tolerance. In other words, reduction of BCAAs may help with type 2 diabetes.
Are BCAAs Worth the Risk for Brain Boosting?
Because of the potential for serious side effects of getting too much BCAAs in the diet, and the lack of evidence that BCAAs help with brain health, it is probably best to avoid the supplement. Neither ALS or diabetes is worth the potential short-term gain of using BCAAs.
Eating a healthy, well-rounded diet should get you the right amount of amino acids that you will need for muscle building as well as overall health. And, with that type of diet, your brain should be at its best as well.
Should You Be Looking for the Best BCAA Supplement?
Given the risk for serious side effects and no apparent brain boosting benefits, we would not recommend adding BCAA supplements to your daily supplement regimen. Instead, opt for a well-rounded diet and do some brain-boosting exercises, like playing a game of Suduko.