Why Are Amino Acids Essential to Your Health?
You’ve probably heard of amino acids, or AAs (for short) but might not be quite sure what they do. They are molecules made of chains of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen that join together to form proteins. Twenty-two are considered important, and 10 are considered essential to human health. This means that the human body can’t produce these protein building blocks and it needs to get them from the diet. All amino acids have universal links that allow them to join up with others to form a protein chain.
What Proteins Do?
Without protein, good health cannot be maintained. The job of proteins is to support the growth and development of bodily tissues. Proteins provide material for blood, skin, hair, nails, muscles and all of the internal organs, including the brain. People need protein to produce hormones, which control many bodily functions, including reproduction, digestion and the rate of metabolism.Proteins keep the blood from becoming too alkaline or too acidic and helps it to clot after injuries. It helps create enzymes and antibodies and can provide energy, even though this role is most often taken by fats and carbohydrates. Excess protein is converted to fat in the liver and stored in the tissues of the body.
As AAs are necessary to build proteins in the first place, they are what results when the body breaks down the protein it has ingested.
Essential Amino Acid’s (EAAs)
The 10 essential amino acids, or EAAs are tryptophan, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, isoleucine, arginine, valine, histidine and threonine. A food that contains all of the EAAs is considered a complete protein. If a food lacks or is very low in an EAA, it’s called an incomplete protein.
The nonessential amino acids are, asparagine, glutamic acid, glycine, aspartic acid, serine, tyrosine, alanine, cysteine, glutamine and proline.
There are also conditional AAs, which are used by the body in times of stress. They are arginine, cysteine, glutamine, tyrosine, glycine, ornithine, proline and serine. Note that some of them are also EAAs or nonessential AAs.
Every food has a different balance of AAs, and they must be present and consumed in the right proportions for the body to create necessary proteins. Nutritionists believe that if even one EAA is missing from the diet then protein synthesis will stop. This missing EAA is known as the limiting amino acid. A person can eat food that has 100 percent of one EAA but only 20 percent of another. Because of this, only 20 percent of the protein in the food they eat can do the job of protein. The other 80 percent is used as energy. AAs are not stored in the body, and a certain amount of them must be eaten every day for protein synthesis.
Lack of amino acids lead to symptoms that range from mental disorders to liver failure, dizziness, fatigue, headache, unexplained weight loss and loss of appetite.
Fortunately, meat, fish, poultry an dairy are abundant in protein as well as EAAs. Though fruits and vegetables also contain proteins, the body doesn’t use these proteins well because they lack some EAAs. These foods are best combined with other foods that are high in EAAs. Macaroni and cheese is an example, with essential amino acid rich cheese complementing the wheat of the macaroni, whose EAA quotient may be lacking. Failing this, people who usually eat foods low in EAAs can take supplements.
The Different Essential Amino Acids
Arginine is known to support cardiovascular health. It also supports the kidneys, wound healing, the functioning of the immune system and hormones. Once in the body, arginine is changed into nitric oxide, which helps blood vessels dilate and helps the circulation of the blood. Arginine is found in many kinds of food, and arginine deficiencies are rare.
Tryptophan is turned into the neurotransmitter serotonin in the body. Serotonin regulates sleep and mood and may help the symptoms of depression, bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Tryptophan is found in poultry, dairy products, pumpkin seeds, cheese and soy products.
Leucine helps a person retain their muscle mass and is often used by body builders. It helps people lose weight and increases the levels of “good” or HDL cholesterol. Leucine is abundant in meats, eggs and dairy.
Lysine is used to treat cold sores and to improve athletic performance, but its main function is to help the body produce carnitine, which helps turn fatty acids into energy. It aids in the absorption of calcium, helps the body make collagen, which is necessary for cartilage and skin and lowers levels of “bad” or LDL cholesterol.
Methionine is one of the two amino acids that contain sulfur and supports normal metabolism. It also helps the liver break down fats, or lipids and increase its production of lecithin, which supports the liver and the kidneys. Methionine helps the urine stay ammonia free and lowers levels of histamines. Foods rich in methionine are almonds, lentils, red meat, fish, soybeans, yogurt and legumes.
Phenylalanine is changed to the amino acid tyrosine in the body. Tyrosine is used to make hormones such as L-dopa, thyroid hormone and epinephrine. Phenylalanine might be useful in treating depression and vitiligo, a condition where patches of skin are lighter than the surrounding skin. This essential amino acid is found in most protein rich foods.
Isoleucine helps muscles recover after strenuous exercise and helps to regulate blood sugar. It also helps in wound healing by encouraging blood clots. Foods that are rich in isoleucine include nuts, peas, fish, meat, seeds and soy foods. It is a branched chain amino acid that works with leucine and valine to support tissue repair, provide energy and support normal, healthy growth.
Valine keeps muscles strong and sends them energy during intense activity. It takes excess nitrogen out of the liver while it brings nitrogen to other areas of the body. It may help reverse some of the damage caused by alcoholism. Valine can be had through eating peanuts, soy, mushrooms, dairy and meat.
This amino acid is important in maintaining the myelin sheathing around nerve cells. This allows the nerve cells to send and receive messages properly. It is important that histidine be balanced, for an excess can lead to mental disorders such as schizophrenia and a deficiency can lead to rheumatoid arthritis. Histidine can be found in foods high in protein and is also abundant in grains.
Threonine balances the levels of proteins in the body and through this helps maintain the proper functioning of the liver, the central nervous system, the immune system and the cardiovascular system. It is needed to produce serine and glycine, which in turn produce collagen. It is found in mushrooms, meat, and green, leafy vegetables