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Importance of branched-chain amino acids

01 July 2014, at 1:00am

Ian Williams, in this seventh in a series from Royal Canin on up-to-date knowledge behind nutrients, looks at the benefits of branched-chain amino acids in veterinary diets

AMONG the essential amino acids, leucine, isoleucine and valine belong to a category of their own called the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs).

Cats and dogs are incapable of synthesising adequate amounts of these amino acids, so dietary intake is needed to meet daily requirements. As a result,  the concentration of these three amino acids in the blood is very dependent on the diet that is being fed.

Leucine, isoleucine and valine represent at least one-third of the essential amino acids constituting muscle proteins and they are the only amino acids that are initially degraded by muscles. These three amino acids are unique among the essential amino acids because they are able to undergo reversible transamination to enrich the organism’s nitrogen pool.

Leucine, isoleucine and valine are able to stimulate the synthesis of proteins and slow protein degradation in muscles. This property has been specifically attributed to leucine, as it has proven to be as effective as a mixture of the three BCAAs in doing so.

Further research

In human medicine, numerous studies have focused on the possibility of nutritionally supporting the ageing effect on muscles by changing the quantity and also the quality of ingested proteins, aiming to optimise protein intake and retention through an improvement in amino acid bioavailability for the muscle tissues.

Although the mechanisms for the development of sarcopaenia are not clearly elucidated, age- associated alterations in the muscle’s anabolic response to nutritional stimuli and a decline in protein intake may be significant contributing factors.

The ageing muscle is still able to respond to amino acids, mainly the essential BCAAs, which have been shown to promote muscle protein synthesis in older individuals.

It is likely that this is due to the direct effect of leucine on the initiation of mRNA translation, which is still present in older age, although at a reduced level.

Leucine for senior pets

An increased level of BCAAs in the diet may be beneficial for the maintenance of a healthy and strong muscle mass in the older cat and dog.

As a result, Royal Canin’s range of Senior Consult diets contain a higher percentage of BCAAs (leucine in particular) to help maintain this muscle mass and as such BCAAs form a key component for the nutritional management of cats and dogs with sarcopaenia.

In summary, the nutritional response dedicated to the senior cat and dog often includes an enhanced BCAA profile, especially regarding the levels of leucine.

Together with regular veterinary check-ups, an appropriate diet can help senior cats and dogs continue to lead happy and healthy lives.

  • For further reading visit vet (or vetportal. for Ireland). 
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