What Does Lysine Do for Your Body?

Spinach contains lysine.
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Lysine is one of 20 amino acids commonly used by your body to build protein. Of these 20, lysine is considered an essential amino acid, which means it must be obtained from dietary sources because your body cannot synthesize it. Plants can make lysine from aspartic acid, as can bacteria species, which is why lysine is found within leafy vegetables, legumes, fish and herbivorous animals. Lysine has a variety of positive effects on the body and can be consumed as a supplement to combat the herpes virus.

How Lysine Affects You

Like many amino acids, lysine is used to build muscles and collagen, which is an important constituent of cartilage, connective tissue and skin. "Biochemistry of Human Nutrition" author, George Gropper, reports that lysine has other important roles in your body, such as promoting absorption of calcium from the intestines, facilitating the manufacture of enzymes, hormones and antibodies, and stimulating the production of creatinine. Creatinine is used by the body to help convert fatty acids into usable forms of energy. If also reduces blood levels of LDL, the "bad" cholesterol. In "Advanced Nutrition: Macronutrients, Micronutrients and Metabolism," Carolyn D. Berdanier et al., explain lysine is also taken as a supplement to reduce the symptoms created by cold sores and genital herpes, which are caused by different forms of the herpes simplex virus, and shingles, caused by the herpes zoster virus. Specifically, lysine is able to reduce viral uptake of arginine, which inhibits replication.

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Excessive Lysine Intake

Lysine in moderate amounts does not lead to any serious side effects. In her book, "Nutritional Sciences," author Michelle McGuire notes, people supplementing with lysine typically take between 500 and 1,500 mg daily, in multiple doses, without experiencing any unwanted symptoms. Lysine in higher dosages, especially taken in conjunction with antibiotics, can cause unwanted side effects, which include allergic reactions, nausea, stomach cramps and diarrhea. There is some speculation that very high levels of lysine might actually increase cholesterol levels, which could lead to increased risks of gallstone formation in the gall bladder, as cited by by Gerald Litwack in "Human Biochemistry and Disease." A medical professional should be consulted before embarking on a lysine supplement regime.

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Effects of Lysine Deficiency

A lysine deficiency is considered fairly rare, even in vegetarians and people on restricted diets. However, "The New Encyclopedia of Vitamins, Minerals, Supplements, and Herbs," by Nicola Reavley, reports symptoms of lysine deficiency include kidney stone formation, dizziness, reduced appetite, fatigue and anemia. Severe deficiency can lead to hormone imbalance and affect metabolism, sexual reproduction and growth. People at risk of lysine deficiency are those who do not eat fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy products or meat, but rather consume heavily processed foods, sugary foods and soda pop.

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Foods That Increase Dietary Lysine

Lysine rich foods are plentiful and include leafy vegetables, such as spinach and kale; stalk vegetables, such as cauliflower and celery; legumes, such as soybeans, green beans and lentils; fruits, such as pears, papaya, apricots, bananas and apples; nuts, such as almonds and cashews; dairy, such as eggs, some cheeses, yogurt and milk; and meats, especially red meat, pork and poultry, as well as cod and sardines.

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Lysine is a type of amino acid your body needs to maintain proper growth and energy production. Unfortunately, your body can't generate lysine by itself. Instead, you need to consume lysine-rich foods, such as meat, fish or nuts, or supplements to ensure your body receives enough lysine each day. Lysine supplements are also purported to yield medicinal benefits in certain people. Before using lysine supplements, talk to your medical provider.

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Cold Sore and Genital Herpes Outbreak Prevention

Health professionals with the University of Maryland Medical Center report regular treatment with lysine supplements may help prevent the outbreak of cold sores in people with oral herpes, a viral infection. Additionally, this supplement may reduce the frequency of genital herpes outbreaks, a sexually-transmitted disease. In such cases, lysine supplements may help diminish the appearance of painful, inflamed skin lesions across the genital region. However, additional research is necessary to further examine the effect lysine supplements have on herpes outbreaks.

Increased Calcium Absorption

Lysine helps your body readily absorb calcium and reduces the amounts of calcium excreted from the body in urine. Your body uses calcium in a variety of different processes -- including bone development. Adding a lysine supplement to your diet may help limit bone loss, which may help prevent or treat osteoporosis, the degenerative bone disease characterized by progressive bone loss and diminished bone density. The May 2001 issue of "Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy" reports that lysine also affects nitric oxide levels and collagen synthesis, both of which have a direct effect on bone health.

Bell's Palsy Treatment

Treatment with a lysine supplement may help reduce or treat symptoms associated with Bell's palsy -- a facial nerve disease. The herpes simplex virus is the most common cause of Bell's palsy. Lysine may help reduce the activity of the virus, which may help diminish Bell's palsy symptoms of facial weakness, drooping or paralysis; however, additional research examining this potential benefit of lysine supplements is still needed.

Athletic Performance Enhancement

Increasing your intake of lysine may help enhance your athletic performance. Amino acids such as lysine are the building blocks of proteins. In conjunction with other amino acids in your body, lysine may help maintain lean body mass and healthy growth and development. More definitive clinical research studies are necessary to further evaluate the medicinal applications of lysine supplements.

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