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Are there dietary requirements for dispensable amino acids and if so, how do we assess requirements?

Tessari, Paolo

Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care: September 2019 - Volume 22 - Issue 5 - p 329–336
doi: 10.1097/MCO.0000000000000582
ASSESSMENT OF NUTRITIONAL AND METABOLIC STATUS: Edited by Dwight E. Matthews and Kristina Norman

Purpose of review Nonessential amino acids (NEAAs) represent a relevant portion of dietary protein(s), yet their requirement(s) has not been determined. Despite their nature as dispensable substrates, should either shortage of any NEAA precursor or impaired synthetic reactions occur, NEAA dietary intake may become insufficient. The purpose of this review is to discuss recent hypotheses and data on individual NEAA requirements and metabolism.

Recent findings A minimum total NEAA requirement can simply be estimated by subtraction of essential amino acid (EAA) total RDAs, from recommended ‘safe’ protein intake. By this calculation, NEAA intake would account for two to three times that of the EAAs, under nitrogen-balance conditions. Although the α-amino-nitrogen of the NEAAs is ‘not essential’, yet it must be furnished by a common pool contributed by both EAAs and NEAAs. Thus, an increased demand for NEAAs may deprive the α-amino-nitrogen body pool(s) possibly limiting the NEAA de novo synthesis itself. Conversely, shortage of NEAAs may require more EAAs to maintain the nitrogen pool. Conditions of increased requirements could those of unbalanced diets, EAA intake below RDA, pregnancy, or else. In addition, the ‘obligatory nitrogen losses’ may consume NEAAs too. A novel approach to estimate NEAA ‘requirements’ in humans is proposed.

Summary Methods to estimate NEAA requirements in humans should be the object of further studies.

Metabolism Division, Department of Medicine, University of Padova, Padova, Italy

Correspondence to Professor Paolo Tessari, Metabolism Division, Department of Medicine, University of Padova, via Giustiniani 2, 35128 Padova, Italy. Tel: +39 498211748; fax: +39 498217878; e-mail:

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