Amino Acids


CFS Research

Although there are few scientific studies on the use of amino acids in the treatment of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, The Gersten Institute believes that the following article by Bralley and Lord is one of the best, if not THE best studies. The authors of this study have undertaken a difficult task, for a scientific study on CFS and amino acids poses a number of problems. First of all, the diagnosis of CFS remains controversial. There is no question that CFS is a real and debilitating disease. However, as you will read elsewhere on this site, CFS may be a grab-bag diagnosis that includes a host of alphabet-soup diagnoses, such as: Gulf War Syndrome (GWS), Fibromyalgia (FM), Myalgic Encepalopathy (ME), Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS)... and more.

So our first difficulty is in making a clear diagnosis that rules out other causes of fatigue. A second major problem in amino acid research is that adequate treatment involves supplementation of all the amino acids that are deficient in a given individual. Typical medical research almost always involves studying a single treatment, and not a mixture of compounds. It could be argued that a research study in which people with CFS were treated with only one amino acid at a time would be unethical. As you will read in the study by Bralley and Lord, there is good evidence that treatment of CFS with a mixture of all the deficient amino acids actually works. Given the results of this study, as well as our own CFS patients at The Gersten Institute, there is solid evidence that this approach works and should be a fundamental treatment for all people with CFS. Of course, it is not the only treatment for CFS. As you will read, not all of the patients in this study improved. Fortunately, there are many approaches to CFS and many good scientists who are researching a variety of other treatment modalities for CFS. We do not mean to minimize the importance of those other approaches and so we encourage our patients to have the most thorough medical work-up possible. There are doctors in America who specialize in medications that help CFS. We encourage our patients to make the most of those resources and to become educated about their illness. There is little question that people with CFS generally know far more about this terrible disease than do most medical doctors. We ask you to be patient with your doctor if he or she does not yet grasp CFS as well as you do! Be patient and help educate them. In turn, learn from those who have something to teach.

Now here's the research study.

Journal of Applied Nutrition, 46(3):74-78(1994)

J. Alexander Bralley, PhD and Richard S. Lord, PhD


Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), is a rapid onset of debilitating fatigue with no clearly defined origin or effective therapy. In an open trial,fasting plasma amino acid levels were measured in 25 CFS subjects. Amino acid mixtures were formulated based upon individual test results. Twenty subjects completed the study by taking 15 grams of the formulation daily for three months. Near complete symptom resolution was seen in 75% of subjects, 15% had moderate and 10% had little or no relief. Follow-up testing showed improved amino acid levels. Specific amino acids may affect metabolic processes increasing energy production in CFS patients.

Key Words: Chronic fatigue syndrome, amino acids, cellular energy, ATP, treatment


Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) has received much attention recently, yet it is not known whether this syndrome represents one disease process or several which can cause similar sets of symptoms. (1) No known effective therapy is available. The common symptom of debilitating fatigue may represent an impairment of production of mitochondrial adenosine triphosphate (ATP) chemical energy, the fundamental cellular energy source. Mental/emotional symptoms of poor attention, memory loss, lack of concentration and depression may also be reflective of insufficient central nervous system ATP availability and/or impaired neurotransmitter production. Several essential amino acids supply precursors to the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle for ATP production as well as precursors for neurotransmitters. Oral administration of specific amino acids can significantly affect these processes. (2) Several studies have shown that potassium and magnesium aspartate salts can significantly improve fatigue symptoms in patients presumably by precursor stimulation of the TCA cycle.(3),(4) Blood lactate levels are elevated in CFS patients,(5) indicating suboptimal aerobic ATP production. If CFS symptoms are caused by a metabolic deficit depleting ATP, inhibiting optimal ATP generation and/or neurotransmitter production, then oral administration of amino acids that influence these functions may improve symptomology. The following represents an open trial of the efficacy of amino acid supplementation which may stimulate further interest in the use of amino acids as therapeutic agents in CFS.

Materials and Methods

Subjects were admitted to an open trial of this hypothesis if they met an established definition of CFS. (1) Forty one fasting plasma amino acids were measured in 25 CFS patients (16 females and 9 males, ages 23 to 56) using a Beckman 6300 amino acid analyzer. This apparatus consisted of a dedicated HPLC system for temperature controlled ion exchanged chromatography using three buffer changes and a post column ninhydrin derivitization.

Subjects were administered a free form amino acid mixture formulated according to measured plasma levels. This consisted of a base formulation (Table 1) containing 8 essential and 2 semi-essential pharmaceutical grade free form amino acids with pyridoxal-5- phosphate and alpha-ketoglutaric acid as metabolic synergists (Courtesy of Metabolic

Maintenance, Inc. Sisters, OR). Additional amounts of specific amino acids (including taurine) were added to this base formulation if the amino acid level was below an optimized reference range. (6) The additional amount of an amino acid added varied proportionally with the degree of deviation from the low normal range. The total weight of amino acids in the mixture was brought to 300 grams by adding sufficient amounts of base formula to the total computed amount of low amino acids. All subjects completed symptom questionnaires (Figure 1) at the beginning of the trial, then received 15 grams of their individualized mixture daily for three months and were interviewed at the end of the trial. Using the post-trial interview, changes in 25 symptoms were graded on a 1 to 5 scale, 1 representing no improvement or worsening, 5 indicating 100% improvement. A second fasting plasma amino acid level was taken on those subjects who indicated moderate to high improvements in symptoms.

Figure 1. Symptom Questionnaire Name:___________________________________________

1. When did you first notice feelings of chronic fatigue?

Severity of fatigue at its worst:
Answer the following to best describe your fatigue.

2. _____ Bedridden and could do virtually nothing?
             If yes, for how long did this last? ________

3. _____ Shut-in: could not do even light housework or equivalent?
             How long has this lasted? _______

4. _____ Can do all the things you usually do at home or work, but feel much
             more easily fatigued from it: no energy left for anything else?
             How long has this lasted? _______________

Description of the frequency of the fatigue:

Check the best description of the frequency of fatigue.

5. _____ Constant fatigue that does not change

6. _____ Always some fatigue that may get better but never goes away completely

7. _____ Fatigue alternates with periods of feeling normal

Please select the response that best describes your symptoms since onset of fatigue:


____ ____ 8. Recurrent sore throats

____ ____ 9. Recurrent muscle aches and pains.
                 If YES, answer 10,11 & 12.

____ ____ 10. Muscle aches were so severe you had to stop all activities and rest

____ ____ 11. Could continue normal activity, but muscle aches made it hard

____ ____ 12. Not aware of muscle aches during normal activity, only at rest

____ ____ 13. Associated recurrent headaches. If YES, answer 14, 15 &16.

____ ____ 14. Headaches so severe you had to stop all activities and rest

____ ____ 15. Could continue normal activity, but headaches made it hard

____ ____ 16. Not aware of headaches during normal activity, only at rest

____ ____ 17. Depression or unusual mood changes

____ ____ 18. Difficulty in sleeping

____ ____ 19. Difficulty in concentrating

____ ____ 20. Anxiety

____ ____ 21. Nausea

____ ____ 22. Swollen lymph glands

____ ____ 23. Stomach ache

____ ____ 24. Diarrhea

____ ____ 25. Cough

____ ____ 26. Rash

____ ____ 27. Odd sensations in skin

____ ____ 28. Loss of appetite

____ ____ 29. Joint pain

____ ____ 30. Vomiting

____ ____ 31. Recurrent fevers at home

____ ____ 32. Intermittent swelling of fingers

____ ____ 33. Weight Loss

____ ____ 34. Weight Gain

____ ____ 35. Have you seen more than one doctor for this problem

____ ____ 36. Do you feel any doctor's treatment has been effectiv for this problem

____ ____ 37. Has this problem caused problems or stress at home or work

____ ____ 38. Have you ever thought this problem "might just all be in my head"

____ ____ 39. Do you have a history of allergies? If YES, what kind?
                   Food ___, Drug ___, Hay Fever____, Chemicals ____



Five subjects dropped out of the trial. Of these, two noticed no effect, two developed gastrointestinal distress (diarrhea and cramping) within one month of starting the amino acids, and one had a complete relapse of symptoms after 2 months of modest improvement. Of the 20 subjects who completed the trial period, the post-trial interview regarding questionnaire symptoms showed 75% (15) experienced 50 -100% improvement, 15% (3) had a 25-50% improvement, and 10% (2) had no improvement in symptoms. No other changes in treatment or lifestyle during the three-month period were offered by subjects which they felt may account for this improvement. Of the subjects exhibiting the greatest positive response, energy levels were reported to increase substantially within 2 weeks. Some cases improved dramatically within several days, including two subjects with a 15 year history of this disease process. The most commonly reported improvement was in mental function with greatly enhanced ability to concentrate and elimination of mental fatigue or "brain fog". After the trial, 90% of these subjects have continued to take the amino acid mixture (often at a reduced dosage) as they report a decrease in energy level and recurrence of other symptoms when the formulation is discontinued.

All subjects exhibited multiple amino acids levels out of reference range (Table 2). Retesting of subjects after three months showed improvement in these levels. There was no discernible difference in initial amino acid level patterns between those experiencing improvement and those who did not or dropped out. All subjects experiencing 50 -100% symptom improvement showed marked improvement of amino acid levels, although no consistent pattern of which individual amino acids was noted. In this group an average of 3.67 amino acids returned to normal reference range after treatment. In the 25 - 50% symptom improvement group, an average of 2.5 amino acids returned to normal reference range after treatment.

Table 1   Table 2
Base Amino Acid Formulation   Percentage frequency of amino acids below reference range in 25 CFS subjects
Amino Acid Percentage by weight   Amino Acid Percentage
L-Valine 11.0   L-Histidine 0
L-Leucine 12.70   L-Valine 4
L-Isoleucine 9.40   L-Threonine 4
L-Phenylalanine 12.70   L-Lysine 8
L-Tryptophan 2.00   L-Methionine 20
L-Methionine 7.60   L-Arginine 24
L-Threonine 6.80   L-Leucine 52
L-Lysine 9.30   L-Isoleucine 60
L-Histidine 10.50   Taurine 64
L-Arginine 9.30   L-Phenylalanine 72
Pyridoxal-5-Phosphate 0.30   L-Tryptophan 80
Alpha-ketoglutaric acid 8.40      


The difficulty in defining and diagnosing this illness suggests a potential multifactorial etiology. (7) Regardless of the cause, a common etiology in this disease may be one or more metabolic blocks that prevent optimal ATP production in cells. CFS patients exhibit elevated blood lactate levels which could reflect such a deficit. (5) Recent organic acid profiles on CFS patients in a post-exercise condition reveal significant abnormalities in levels of the citric acid cycle intermediates indicating derangements in this critical ATP production cycle. (8) Red blood cell magnesium was also found to be deficient and intravenous administration of magnesium improved symptoms in CFS patients. (9) Magnesium is an essential element in ATP utilization. The considerable energy requirements of the brain would make this organ particularly susceptible to a deficit in ATP production and utilization. Amino acids directly impact the TCA cycle and could ATP production.

Adenosine monophosphate (AMP) has been used successfully to treat other viral infections perhaps by stimulating increased ATP production. (10) If CFS has a viral origin, an increase in ATP production may be a factor in recovery.

The two most commonly deficient amino acids seen in CFS subjects are phenylalanine and tryptophan. These serve as precursors to catecholamines and serotonin, neurotransmitters that are intimately involved in depressive disorders. Depression is a common symptom in CFS patients. Significant improvement was seen in fibromyalgia patients (a disease similar to CFS) with administration of 5-hydroxytryptophan. (11) Yet electrophysiological evidence can apparently differentiate CFS type patients from patients with clinical depression,suggesting an additional metabolic impairment in CFS patients.(12)

Determination of deficient metabolic factors, such as amino acids, that can be reintroduced into the system to correct potential metabolic blocks by mass action may represent a new, effective approach to treatment of CFS patients in whom a final common defect is an inability to generate optimal amounts of cellular energy or other critical metabolites. Additional double- blind/placebo controlled clinical trials are needed to confirm the efficacy of amino acid therapy for CFS as well as research into underlying mechanisms regarding the metabolic fate of these substances and their mode of action.


  1. Holmes GP, Kaplan JE, Gantz NM, et al. Chronic fatigue syndrome: A working case definition. JAMA 1988; 108:387-389.

  2. Wurtman JL, Wurtman NJ. Nutrition and the Brain, Vol.1-4. New York: Raven Press, 1977-83.

  3. Shaw DL, Chesney MA, Tullis FI, Agersborg HP. Management of fatigue: A physiological approach. Am J Med Sci1962; 243:758-769.

  4. Hicks JT. Treatment of fatigue in general practice. Clin Med 1964; (Jan):85.

  5. Riley MS, O'Brien CJ, McCluskey DR, Bell NP, Nicholls DP. Aerobic work capacity in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. Br Med J 1990; 301:953-956.

  6. Pangborn JB. Nutritionally correct amino acid ranges: Urine and plasma. Technical memorandum, Bionostics, Inc., Chicago,1984.

  7. Swartz MN. The chronic fatigue syndrome: One entity or many? N Engl J Med 1988; 319:1726-28.

  8. Cheney P. Personal communication. 1994.

  9. IM, Campbell MJ, Dowson D. Red blood cell magnesium and chronic fatigue syndrome. Lancet 1991;337:757-760.

  10. Sklar SH, Blue WT, Alexander EJ, Bodian CA. Herpes zoster: The treatment and prevention of neuralgia with adenosine monophosphate. JAMA 1985 253:1427-30.

  11. Caruso I, Sarzi Puttini P, Cazzola M, Azzolini V. Double-blind study of 5-hydroxytryptophan versus placebo in the treatment of primary fibromyalgia syndrome. J Int Med Res 1990; 201-9.

  12. Prasher D, Smith A, Findley L. Sensory and cognitive event-related potentials in myalgic encephalitis. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 1990; 53:247-53.

This research was supported in part by Metabolic Maintenance, Inc.

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