What Is L-Alanine?

One study has found a link between increased levels of L-alanine and obesity.
L-alanine is often used in supplements aimed at improving aerobic exercise.
People suffering from reduced levels of liver function may benefit from supplemental l-alanine.
Article Details
  • Originally Written By: Canaan Downs
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 03 August 2015
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2015
    Conjecture Corporation
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L-alanine, sometimes also known by its more formal chemical name (2S)-2- Aminopropanoic acid, is an amino acid that humans and many animals create as part of their normal metabolic processes. It occurs most readily in blood plasma, and performs a number of important functions. Two of its most notable tend to be the breakdown of blood glucose, or sugar, and the coordination of nitrogen transportation to and from the liver. The alanine family of amino acids is usually considered “non-essential” in medical literature not because of how important it is, but rather because of how readily the body produces it. This particular compound is only rarely used in supplementation and pharmaceuticals because deficiencies don’t usually happen. Some research has suggested that supplementing with excess quantities of this particular amino strain might help with liver certain liver conditions or metabolic deficiencies that lead to obesity, but much of the research here is inconclusive.

Understanding Amino Acids Generally

Amino acids are frequently referred to as the “building blocks of life,” in part because their rich protein structure forms the core of most human and animal functions. There are many different types of amino acid — close to 500 by some estimates — and l-alanine is just one. It carries the chemical formula C3H7NO2.

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Role in Glucose Metabolism

The primary functions of this amino acid in the human body relate to the metabolism of glucose and pyruvate, which are essentially a sugar compound and an acid used for cellular energy gain. The body can manufacture glucose from the amino acid in the presence of alanine aminotrasferase (ALT), which is found predominantly in the liver. Although it is not as efficient a means of producing glucose as methods that make use of lactate, it does not require the use of the coenzyme ubiquinone or nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide dihydroxygenase. This can provide a significant advantage in certain short-lived anaerobic muscle use.

Nitrogen Transportation

This particular compound is also thought to aid the transportation of nitrogen to the liver. The liver plays an important filtration role in blood chemistry, and is also responsible for processing toxins like alcohol. The ready presence of the l-compound alanine can make these processes more efficient.

Supplementation

Thanks to how readily the compound is produced by healthy people, the acid is only rarely extracted and amplified for use in medications or supplements. In some places, though, it is added to sports nutrition supplement products, particularly powders and pre-mixed beverages, that are aimed at improving aerobic exercise, high-intensity workouts, or post-exertion muscle recovery. These products typically advertise themselves as “fortified with amino acids” or other similar claims. However, many of these products neglect to consider that a significant portion of the alanine compounds they include is unlikely to be absorbed in the gut due to competitive absorption with other amino acids, and there is little evidence that they offer users an improvement in athletic performance.

When it comes to essential functions, the body almost always produces all it needs. Just the same, some medical practitioners have suggested that individuals with specific and diagnosed conditions affecting serum levels of l-alanine may benefit from supplements to promote liver health, relieve muscular degeneration, treat diminished energy levels, and facilitate the utilization of B-vitamins. This is a different use entirely from recreational fitness and muscle building aims.

For instance, there is some evidence to suggest that supplemental l-alanine may provide a slight benefit to patients suffering from reduced levels of liver function. In most cases this happens because of the acid’s role not just in the synthesis of pyruvate by the liver, but also in the transportation of nitrogen from peripheral tissues to hepatic cells. By providing additional sources of this nutrient in the diet, there is some chance that the liver may be unburdened by some of its metabolic workload. Patients suffering from chronic wasting diseases may also find that the supplement slows the degeneration of skeletal muscle. In general these claims haven’t been proved, and aren’t backed by any major regulatory bodies. Still, in certain limited circumstances, they might be recommended by a medical expert. The results are usually heavily dependent on the individual.

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