L-lysine is one of the essential amino acids, so-called because your body must have it to function properly but cannot produce it on its own. For this reason, you must replenish your supply of lysine from food sources or a supplement on a daily basis. Together with all of the other essential and nonessential amino acids, lysine plays a critical role in your body’s synthesis of protein. In addition to this team effort, lysine has some unique health benefits of its own.
A Building Block of Protein
To produce the protein necessary to build and repair cells, your body must have a full complement of essential and nonessential amino acids, which collectively make up the building blocks of protein. If you’re not eating enough lysine-rich foods to supply your daily lysine needs, your body will actually cannibalize existing protein structures such as muscle to come up with the missing ingredient. The same scenario applies whenever your body lacks adequate levels of any essential amino acid. Since your body can produce its own nonessential amino acids, there are always plenty of those available for the task of protein-building.
Facilitates Calcium Absorption
Lysine helps your body to absorb the calcium from dietary sources and also appears to help the body conserve its calcium supply, according to naturopathic doctor Keri Marshall, author of “User’s Guide to Protein and Amino Acids.” For this reason, eating a diet rich in lysine or taking a lysine supplement may be helpful for those at risk of osteoporosis, most notably postmenopausal women. The University of Maryland Medical Center points out that no study has yet confirmed that lysine supplementation can prevent osteoporosis in humans. However, the center notes that there is some evidence that lysine in combination with arginine, another amino acid, increases the activity of bone-building cells known as osteoblasts. Lysine and arginine also appear to promote the synthesis of collagen.
Eases Herpes Symptoms
Herpes simplex is a chronic viral infection that causes recurrent outbreaks of painful lesions on skin and mucous membranes. There is no cure, although the prescription medication acyclovir can reduce the number and severity of such outbreaks. However the medication also may cause some side effects. In a review of data from previous studies of natural therapies for herpes simplex, Alan R. Gaby, M.D., found strong evidence that lysine in daily doses from 500 to 3,000 milligrams significantly reduced the severity of herpes simplex attacks. Gaby published his findings in a 2006 issue of “Alternative Medicine Review.”
Possible Alzheimer's Application
In the face of mounting evidence that the herpes simplex type 1 virus, or HSV-1, may play a role in development of Alzheimer’s dementia, Robert N. Rubey, a retired geriatric psychiatrist, suggests that lysine supplementation might help to prevent the disease. Writing in a 2010 issue of “Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment,” Rubey notes that replication of HSV-1 is suppressed in environments that are rich in lysine and low in arginine. While acknowledging that his lysine-Alzheimer’s theory is speculative, Rubey says it potentially offers a safe and inexpensive approach to the prevention of the disease and deserves to be more fully explored.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Lysine
- The Biology Project: The Chemistry of Amino Acids
- User's Guide to Protein and Amino Acids; Keri Marshall
- Alternative Medicine Review: Natural Remedies for Herpes Simplex
- Neuropsychiatric Dementia and Treatment: Could Lysine Supplementation Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease: A Novel Hypothesis
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