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Archive for the ‘lysine’ Category

You Ask, I Answer: Canker Sores

canker-soreI am very susceptible to canker sores.  I know they aren’t solely caused by [nutrition issues], but can I do anything from a nutritional standpoint to reduce their frequency?

I have read that I should supplement lysine.  How much do I need, though?

– Roxana (Last name withheld)
Farmington, NM

Canker sores are indeed tricky because they can be spurred by a variety of factors.  Sodium lauryl sulfate (the compound in most toothpastes responsible for foaming), for instance, can trigger canker sores in individuals who are prone to them.

From a nutritional standpoint, supplementing lysine is only half the tale.

Alas, let’s start at the beginning.

Lysine is an essential amino acid found in high amounts in red meat, poultry, eggs, soybeans, cheese, and nuts.  Remember, “essential” means our bodies are unable to produce it, so we must get it from food.  Lysine is the only essential amino acid found in very low amounts in grains.

The bulk of research on canker sores and amino acids goes beyond simply getting sufficient lysine, though.  The key is to simultaneously restrict one’s intake of another amino acid, though one that is not essential — arginine.

Alas, peanuts, tree nuts and chocolate have very high arginine to lysine ratios.  While not everyone responds to this diet, many people are able to keep tabs on canker sores (both by reducing the number of outbreaks and by cutting short their duration) by drastically limiting their intake of nuts.

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You Ask, I Answer: Lysine Supplements

41TQEQ7ZRSLWhat is your take on lysine supplementation?

One of my friends swears by it.  She says she feels more energetic and focused since she started taking one lysine pill every day for the past two months.

What are the benefits of taking extra lysine?

– Damira Baswani
Evanston, IL

My verdict?   “Placebo effect”!

Lysine is one of nine essential amino acids.

Remember, any time you see the word essential in the context of nutrition, it refers to a component we must obtain from food, since our bodies are unable to produce it.  All vitamins and minerals are essential.  Cholesterol is not.

Lysine is found in high amounts in baker’s yeast, beans, beef, cheese, eggs, lentils, nuts, pork, poultry, and tofu.  Turkey, canned tuna, and milk are also good sources.

People whose diets include the foods listed above do not need to supplement any additional lysine.

Lysine deficiencies — and even low consumption of lysine-rich foods, for that matter — are very rarely seen in developed countries.  You usually only see them in very poor areas of developing countries, where diets are mainly composed of one or two different foods (both of which offer very little lysine).

While a lysine deficiency can cause anemia and fatigue, extra amounts of the amino acid do not result in increased energy.

For the average person eating a varied diet, lysine — and other amino acid — supplements are unnecessary.

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You Ask, I Answer: Amino Acids in Plant Protein

FEA LV DietbooksI was reading a copy of Sugar Busters (it was at my aunt’s house, I promise I didn’t buy it, Andy!) and at one point the authors mention that two essential amino acids (methionine and lysine) are best absorbed by the body if they are consumed from animal sources.

I thought vegetarian diets were fine from a protein and amino acid standpoint?

– Dawn (last name withheld)
Jacksonville, FL

Ah, yes, Sugar Busters — one of the iconic books of the latest low-carb revolution.

Interestingly, none of the four authors (three of whom are doctors) have backgrounds — or, actually, a single degree — in nutrition.

It always confuses me why people think an “MD” credential automatically means someone is well-versed in nutrition.

A cardiac surgeon with top honors can work wonders in the operating room and be up on the latest technologies, but most of them have next to little nutrition knowledge.  Let’s leave something as specialized and complex as heart surgery to them and nutrition to those who have spent years studying it.

Anyhow, onto your question.

There are nine essential amino acids.  In nutrition, the term ‘essential’ means that we absolutely must get that nutrient or component from our diets.

Animal products are called ‘complete proteins’ because they contain all nine essential amino acids.

Most plant-based sources of protein (vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, etc.) are ‘incomplete proteins’ because they offer some, but not all of the essential amino acids.  There are some exceptions, though — hemp seeds, chia seeds, and soy.

This “complete versus incomplete protein” issue is a moot point, though.

It just so happens that the essential amino acids lacking in whole grains, for example, are abundant in legumes (and vice versa).  Hence, a diet entirely composed of plant protein is just as adequate as one that includes food sources that are complete proteins.

Incomplete proteins are only an issue in very poor areas of developing countries where people might subsist on grains for extended periods of time.

As for methionine and lysine not being absorbed well from plant foods — absolutely inaccurate!

Not only, like I just mentioned, are some plant foods complete proteins, but incomplete varieties like beans, lentils, and seeds are rich in methionine, while lysine can be easily obtained from nuts.  Our bodies have no difficulty absorbing those two amino acids from plant proteins.

On another note, my “red flag” alert about silly food restrictions certainly goes up for Sugar Busters.

While the book emphasizes dietary patterns that provide sufficient amounts of whole grains, lean protein, healthy fats, and vegetables, I find their placing of bananas, raisins, pineapple, potatoes, and watermelon on the “banned food” list absolutely ridiculous and counter-intuitive.

Artificial sweeteners are A-okay but a banana gets blamed for obesity and diabetes?  Give me a break.

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