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Ammonia Scavengers: What are they?
Q. I hear a lot of chatter on the internet regarding nutrients that are “ammonia scavengers.” Are these important and if so, why?
A. Ammonia is a waste product that is the result of protein metabolism in humans (in people, it’s one of three nitrogen-containing waste products, along with urea and uric acid). Ammonia forms from the oxidation of the amino groups of amino acids/proteins as they’re metabolized into carbohydrates (ahhhh … see previous answer to previous question!). Ammonia is toxic, and it requires a fair amount of water to clear it out of you via your urine. Very high levels of ammonia in the body—known as hyperammonemia—can even lead to coma and eventual death. In addition to being toxic, ammonia has a palpable and detrimental effect on the efficiency of the central nervous system and has correlated in studies to feelings of “fatigue” in athletes. The more ammonia on the brain, the more tired you feel. Think of it as a built-in safety mechanism. Your body recognizes that your intense state of exercise is causing ammonia levels to rise too fast as protein is metabolized to glucose for fuel. So your body essentially says, “Whoa, slow down there, buddy; we’re generating too much of this toxic ammonia stuff for our kidneys to handle at one time!” And what’s the best way to make someone slow down or even stop intense exercise? Make them feel very tired! Ammonia-scavenging nutrients are thus nutrients that assist in the binding and/or clearing of ammonia from the bloodstream. The idea is that if you can get a nutrient to help remove the ammonia faster or more efficiently, the ammonia level will not build up as fast inside your cranium and you’ll reduce or prevent that “tired, fatigued brain” safety mechanism. In theory, this idea is very solid. There are some important issues with ammonia scavengers that are beyond the scope of a Q&A piece, but for the most part, the legal ones aren’t likely to harm you and may actually offer you a small but absolutely noticeable increase in endurance.