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J Nutr. 2008 Oct;138(10):1996S-2002S.

An approach to defining the upper safe limits of amino acid intake.

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  • 1Research Institute, Hospital for Sick Children, M5G 1X8 Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


The existing data on the safe upper limits of amino acid intake in humans is essentially observational; how much do individuals ingest and what side effects do they have? There are numerous studies in humans comparing the effects of high doses of amino acids given as protein bound vs. as free amino acids. These studies have shown that protein-bound amino acids have much less effect on plasma levels of the test amino acid, because protein intake stimulates protein synthesis as another sink for the increased amino acid intake. In practice, the highest amino acid intakes occur with free amino acid supplements that may be ingested by athletes who believe that the amino acids will benefit them in training and/or performance. Previously, in a piglet study, we were able to define the point at which maximal phenylalanine oxidation occurred, above which plasma phenylalanine concentration and body balance rose exponentially. We regard this value of maximal disposal (oxidation) of an amino acid as one metabolic marker of the upper limit of intake. Recently, others have demonstrated a similar maximal oxidation rate for leucine in rats. Based on these experimental data and the paucity of published human data in controlled experiments, we think that a systematic approach needs to be undertaken to define the maximal oxidation rate for all dietary indispensable amino acids and other amino acids that may be ingested in excess by humans. We believe that this will provide a rational basis to begin to define the upper limits of tolerance for dietary amino acids. However, some amino acids, such as threonine and methionine, will be more difficult to study, because they have more than 1 route of disposal or very complex metabolic regulation, in which case defining their upper limits will be more multifaceted.

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