Getting older has certain physical challenges to your bones, muscles and joints. I like to address these issues with my over-50 patients, and readers, to offer them constructive solutions to ensure that they stay strong, healthy, and active. Most of you know that exercise is a key component to any healthy aging regimen. But many of you don’t know that just making some simple nutritional adjustments will help you build muscle, fight osteoporosis and arthritis. In fact, there’s one key nutrient that can do all 3 of those things and that’s what I’d like to tell you about here…
Super Protein Leucine: Fights Inflammation, Builds Muscle
You’ve likely read some of my other articles that speak about the value of protein in your diet – especially as you get older. Protein not only builds muscle but it also provides the building blocks for all the supporting tissues throughout your body. These include ligaments, tendons, fascia and all the minute tissues that keep your joints and bones in proper alignment and help them to move correctly.
Without adequate protein, these structures can’t do their jobs properly and that’s where problems start. Add the natural aging process to that and you’ve got a deteriorating situation that can leave you weak, with painful joints, and prone to disabling fractures.
That’s why I recommend getting enough good quality complete proteins every day. What do I mean by complete protein? Well, protein contains certain amino acids that all have their various jobs in rebuilding tissue. A complete protein contains all the 9 essential amino acids that your body has to have to rebuild itself. These are amino acids that your body can’t manufacture itself and must come from the foods you eat. They are what keep your muscles, bones, joints, hair and skin healthy, youthful and working like they should.
Unfortunately, as people get older, they often don’t enough of these essential amino acids. Maybe they’re watching their weight and are eating less high fat animal proteins that contain all the essential amino acids. They may even be watching their wallets too and, instead, are eating cheaper, less complete vegetarian proteins. Most people don’t realize the impact that skimping on proteins has not only on their current – but future – health, strength, and mobility.
One of those essential amino acids is leucine. Leucine has been found to be the “trigger” for muscle building protein synthesis. Without adequate leucine, muscles don’t regenerate properly. They become weaker and atrophy – or shrink. Pretty soon you can’t carry that box up the stairs or even walk a block without feeling fatigued.
Even if you choose to be a vegan, or are eating less expensive incomplete proteins for budget reasons, adding even a little leucine will help keep your muscles strong. Recently, a study out of McMaster University in Canada proved the muscle building value of even just a little leucine.
Their study showed that adding just 5 grams of supplemental leucine to a lower protein-containing food had the same muscle-building effect of a higher 25 gram dose of a more complete protein. Creating a higher proportion of free leucine helped produce the desired muscle-building effect.
Your muscles are not all that leucine can rebuild. It’s actually a super nutrient that helps regenerate your bones and preserves pain free joints as well. In a study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry researchers showed that leucine helped produce a substance called SLRP’s – small leucine-rich proteoglycans.
SLRP’s are necessary to all the phases of bone formation including the development of bone cells, modeling of bones, and deposition of minerals (like calcium, magnesium, etc) to the inner bone which builds strength. Without adequate leucine, SLRP can’t develop properly and healthy bone regeneration is compromised. In short, your bones get weaker, osteoporosis may set in, and you’re at higher risk for a disabling or life-threatening fracture.
Even more has been learned recently about leucine’s role in keeping you healthy as you get older. New research out of the Medical College of Georgia revealed that leucine also works to turn off inflammation, prevent the development of arthritis, and prevent bone loss in arthritis.
In their study, they found that smaller “leucine helper” proteins, called GILZ (glucocorticoid induced leucine zipper) helped turn off inflammation and produce more bone. A “leucine zipper” is a group of leucine-based proteins that bind to the DNA of specific cell sites. Researchers now feel that this natural, leucine-based glucocorticoid could become a treatment for arthritis instead of the prescription synthetic glucocorticoids that carry so many side effects.
Pass The Leucine, Please
The importance of leucine in keeping your muscles, bones and joints healthy as you get older is research proven. Be sure you include enough leucine-rich foods in your diet daily. Good sources include beef, eggs, dairy (milk and cheese), chicken, turkey, fish, soy, most beans, pumpkin, turnips, spinach, oat bran, and amaranth.
In addition, if you can’t eat enough leucine rich foods, you can supplement with leucine. But don’t go overboard. As the above study showed, even a small amount of leucine can help build muscles. Too much leucine can create a buildup of ammonia in your blood that can damage organs. Look for a good BCAA – branched chain amino acid – supplement that contains leucine at your nearest health food store or online.
Mark Bromson, M.D.
Important Implications for Protein Formulations, http://www.nutraingredients-usa.com/Research/Important-implications-for-protein-formulations-Leucine-enrichment-can-boost-low-protein-beverages-for-muscle-growth
The Biology of Small Leucine-Rich Proteoglycans in Bone Pathology, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3464503/
Protein Appears to Protect Against Bone Loss in Arthritis, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140912112423.htm
Leucine Zipper, http://csmbio.csm.jmu.edu/biology/courses/bio220/zipper.html
Loving Leucine, http://www.muscleandbodymag.com/loving-leucine/