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Is Beta-Alanine Safe? A Review

Beta-alanine is generally safe for short-term use. However, long-term safety remains uncertain.

Beta-alanine, a non-essential amino acid, is popular among athletes. It enhances high-intensity exercise performance and reduces muscle fatigue. Despite its benefits, questions about its safety persist. This review explores the safety of beta-alanine based on current research and expert opinions.

Mechanism of Action

Beta-alanine is synthesized in the liver. It is also found in animal-based foods like beef and chicken. Once ingested, beta-alanine combines with histidine in skeletal muscle to form carnosine. Carnosine helps maintain the acid-base balance in muscles, the brain, and the heart. It buffers intracellular pH during exercise, delaying muscle fatigue and improving performance. According to a study, carnosine plays a crucial role in enhancing exercise performance.

Recommended Dosage

The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) recommends 4–6 grams of beta-alanine daily. This dosage should be taken for at least two weeks to see effects on athletic performance. To minimize side effects, split the dose throughout the day. A sustained-release product or consuming it with meals can also help.

Short-Term Safety

Several clinical studies have evaluated the short-term safety of beta-alanine. A meta-analysis showed a significant positive effect on high-intensity exercise performance. No adverse events were reported up to 24 weeks of supplementation at a dose of 3.2 grams per day. However, most studies did not focus on safety evaluations as primary endpoints. More focused research is needed.

Side Effects

The most common side effect is paresthesia, a tingling sensation on the skin. This usually occurs with a large single dose. Splitting the doses or using a sustained-release formula can mitigate this. Other minor side effects include skin rashes, which are generally not severe.

Long-Term Safety

Short-term studies indicate that beta-alanine is safe. However, there is a lack of data on long-term safety. The Australian Institute of Sports classifies beta-alanine as a safe performance-enhancing supplement with robust scientific evidence. This classification is based on short-term studies.

Expert Opinions

Experts like Jenn O’Donnell-Giles, a sports dietitian, caution against long-term use. She recommends using beta-alanine only for short periods, such as leading up to a championship season or a marathon, but not year-round.

Safety in Specific Populations

Due to a lack of safety data, beta-alanine is not recommended for children, pregnant, or breastfeeding women. An animal study showed that mice given beta-alanine during pregnancy and lactation had lower-weight offspring prone to hyperactivity.

Military Personnel

A review sponsored by the Department of Defense (DOD) did not recommend beta-alanine for military service members. This is due to insufficient safety studies and limited evidence of its effectiveness.

Safety Information from Adverse Event Reports

A review of controlled trials and case reports from adverse event reporting portals found no serious adverse events directly attributable to beta-alanine. However, most spontaneous case reports were insufficiently documented to support an informed judgment about a relationship between beta-alanine and the adverse event in question.

Multi-Ingredient Products

Many adverse event reports involved beta-alanine as one ingredient in multi-ingredient products. This makes it difficult to assign causality specifically to beta-alanine. A meta-analysis of adverse events could not be performed due to the lack of systematically reported data in clinical studies.

Key Takeaways

  • Beta-alanine is generally safe for short-term use.
  • The most common side effect is paresthesia.
  • Long-term safety remains unknown.
  • Not recommended for children, pregnant, or breastfeeding women.
  • More research is needed to evaluate long-term safety.

Summary

Beta-alanine appears safe for short-term use in healthy individuals at recommended doses. The most common side effect, paresthesia, can be managed by splitting doses or using a sustained-release formula. However, the long-term safety of beta-alanine remains unknown. It is not recommended for children, pregnant, or breastfeeding women due to a lack of safety data. More cohort studies are needed to evaluate the safety of beta-alanine among representative populations and to understand the effects of co-variables such as sex, age, and ethnicity.

References

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