We all know the distinct smell of ammonia when we walk into a room cleaned by it.
Too much ammonia and our nose and eyes start to burn.
You would of course never drink it, but did you know your body is producing small levels of this toxin every day and contributes to aging of the brain and liver?
It’s true, and the source of this toxin might also be a surprise.
Protein is made up of amino acids, and even though it powers our muscles and provides structure to our cells, it creates this silent toxin.
The excess Nitrogen and Hydrogen released from amino acids, which is not used in necessary body functions, form the harmful ammonia unless removed.
How Toxic is The Ammonia That Comes From Protein?
Too much ammonia in the body is directly linked to psychological problems including fatigue and confusion, as well as more serious health concerns even coma or death.
A child’s reaction to too much ammonia can include seizures, breathing trouble, lower response, and potentially death.
But ammonia toxicity isn’t just a human concern…it is a problem faced by all animals. A primary way to prevent ammonia is to remove excess Nitrogen from our bodies.
How is Ammonia Removed From The Body?
Fortunately, all living things have come up with ways to deal with Nitrogen and the ammonia it creates.
Marine organisms, from fish, shellfish, and starfish—vertebrates and invertebrates alike—excrete ammonia directly into the water.
This process is not very efficient and unless there is a lot of water in the area to dilute it, these organisms spread the ammonia toxin around.
Even a single goldfish won’t last very long in a small aquarium if the water is not changed or filtered.
Land animals, mainly amphibians and mammals, convert ammonia into urea, in a process called the Urea Cycle, and it occurs in the liver and kidney.
Urea is an odorless, colorless and practically non-toxic substance that washes out with urine.
For every molecule of Urea which gets removed from a mammals’ body, to harmful Nitrogen atoms get removed.
So how do humans and other mammals protect ourselves?
Three main substances in the body are responsible for transporting Nitrogen to the liver and kidneys before ammonia can form and build up: glutamine, glutamate and alanine.
AKG – Ammonia’s Kryptonite
The primary regulator that controls this transportation and ultimate filtration process, is Alpha-Ketoglutarate (AKG), which plays a major role in producing the body’s glutamine and glutamate from multiple sources, including alanine.
AKG picks up the Ammonia ions like metal is bound to a magnet.
When Glutamate and Glutamine successfully transfer Nitrogen to the liver and kidney, our mitochondria can convert the amino groups into harmless urea, instead of toxic ammonia.
From there, it gets washed out with our urine, preserving the proper functioning of our organs.
This is one key reason that AKG is considered as a major weapon in detoxification.
The difficulty for us all that we must come to terms with is that the body’s levels of AKG drop dramatically when we get older.
It stands to reason that if we are less able to efficiently transport the ammonia molecules out from our brain, muscles, and organs, this can have consequences and can possibly lead to additional age-related conditions.
Scientists are studying if the buildup of ammonia can be implicated in how we get Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and liver difficulties.
Learning how to prevent the loss of AKG as we age, is another area of intense interest in the scientific community.