The body needs 20 different amino acids to maintain good health and normal functioning. People must obtain nine of these amino acids, called the essential amino acids, through food. Good dietary sources include meat, eggs, tofu, soy, buckwheat, quinoa, and dairy.
What Are Amino Acids?
Called the “building blocks of life,” amino acids can be obtained in healthy amounts by eating foods that contain them.
Amino acids are compounds that combine to form proteins.Naturally found in our bodies, they’re often referred to as the “building blocks of life.
“Amino acids are needed for the production of enzymes, as well as some hormones and neurotransmitters.They’re also involved in numerous metabolic pathways within cells throughout the body.You can obtain amino acids through the foods you eat.
After your body digests and breaks down protein, amino acids are left in the body to help do the following:
▪️ Break down food.
▪️ Grow and repair body tissue.
▪️ Provide a source of energy.
▪️ Perform other bodily functions.
Types of Amino Acids.
Amino acids can be placed in three different groups:
1. Nonessential amino acids:
These are produced naturally by your body and have nothing to do with the food you eat.The following are examples of nonessential amino acids:
▪️ Aspartic acid.
▪️ Glutamic acid.
2. Essential amino acids:
These can’t be produced by the body and must come from the food you eat.
If you don’t eat foods that contain essential amino acids, your body won’t have them.
The following are essential amino acids:
Histidine facilitates growth, the creation of blood cells, and tissue repair. It also helps maintain the special protective covering over nerve cells, which is called the myelin sheath.
The body metabolizes histidine into histamine, which is crucial for immunity, reproductive health, and digestion. The results of a study that recruited women with obesity and metabolic syndrome suggest that histidine supplements may lower BMI and insulin resistance.
Deficiency can cause anemia, and low blood levels appear to be more common among people with arthritis and kidney disease.
Isoleucine helps with wound healing, immunity, blood sugar regulation, and hormone production. It is primarily present in muscle tissue and regulates energy levels.
Older adults may be more prone to isoleucine deficiency than younger people. This deficiency may cause muscle wasting and shaking.
Leucine helps regulate blood sugar levels and aids the growth and repair of muscle and bone. It is also necessary for wound healing and the production of growth hormone.
Leucine deficiency can lead to skin rashes, hair loss, and fatigue.
Lysine plays a vital role in building muscle, maintaining bone strength, aiding recovery from injury or surgery, and regulating hormones, antibodies, and enzymes. It may also have antiviral effects.
Methionine and the nonessential amino acid cysteine play a role in the health and flexibility of skin and hair. Methionine also helps keep nails strong. It aids the proper absorption of selenium and zinc and the removal of heavy metals, such as lead and mercury.
Phenylalanine helps the body use other amino acids as well as proteins and enzymes. The body converts phenylalanine to tyrosine, which is necessary for specific brain functions.
Phenylalanine deficiency, though rare, can lead to poor weight gain in infants. It may also cause eczema, fatigue, and memory problems in adults.
Phenylalanine is often in the artificial sweetener aspartame, which manufacturers use to make diet sodas. Large doses of aspartame can increase the levels of phenylalanine in the brain and may cause anxiety and jitteriness and affect sleep.
People with a rare genetic disorder called phenylketonuria (PKU) are unable to metabolize phenylalanine. As a result, they should avoid consuming foods that contain high levels of this amino acid.
Threonine is necessary for healthy skin and teeth, as it is a component in tooth enamel, collagen, and elastin. It helps aid fat metabolism and may be beneficial for people with indigestion, anxiety, and mild depression.
Tryptophan is necessary for proper growth in infants and is a precursor of serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates appetite, sleep, mood, and pain.
Melatonin also regulates sleep.
Tryptophan is a sedative, and it is an ingredient in some sleep aids. One study indicates that tryptophan supplementation can improve mental energy and emotional processing in healthy women.Tryptophan deficiency can cause a condition called pellagra, which can lead to dementia, skin rashes, and digestive issues.
Valine is essential for mental focus, muscle coordination, and emotional calm. People may use valine supplements for muscle growth, tissue repair, and energy.
Deficiency may cause insomnia and reduced mental function.It isn’t necessary to eat essential amino acids at every meal. You can get healthy amounts by eating foods containing them throughout the day.
Animal-based foods such as meat, milk, fish, and eggs provide essential amino acids.Plant-based foods such as soy, beans, nuts, and grains also contain essential amino acids.Over the years, there has been controversy about whether vegetarian diets can provide adequate amounts of essential amino acids.
Many experts believe that while it may be harder for vegetarians to maintain an adequate intake, they should be able to do so if they follow the American Heart Association’s guidelines of 5 to 6 servings of whole grains, and 5 or more servings of vegetables and fruits, per day.
3. Conditional amino acids:
These are usually not essential to everyday living but are important when you’re sick, injured, or stressed.
Conditional amino acids include:
When you’re ill or injured, your body may not be able to produce enough conditional amino acids, and you may need to give your body what it needs through diet or supplements.
Can Amino Acids Be Harmful?
When your body has too much of amino acids, the following effects can occur:
▪️Gastrointestinal distress, such as bloating.
▪️ Abdominal pain.
▪️ Increased risk of gout (buildup of uric acid in the body, leading to joint inflammation).
▪️ Unhealthy drop in blood pressure.
▪️ Changes in eating patterns.
▪️ Need for your kidneys to work harder to maintain balance.
Most diets provide safe amounts of amino acids.
Still, talk with your doctor if you plan to follow a diet that’s very high in protein or one that includes amino acid supplements for any reason — including any supplements taken to support intense athletic training.
Incorporating essential amino acids into the diet.
Although it is possible to be deficient in essential amino acids, most people can obtain enough of them by eating a diet that includes protein.
The foods in the following list are the most common sources of essential amino acids:
1. Lysine is in meat, eggs, soy, black beans, quinoa, and pumpkin seeds.
2. Meat, fish, poultry, nuts, seeds, and whole grains contain large amounts of histidine.
3. Cottage cheese and wheat germ contain high quantities of threonine.
4. Methionine is in eggs, grains, nuts, and seeds.
5. Valine is in soy, cheese, peanuts, mushrooms, whole grains, and vegetables.
6. Isoleucine is plentiful in meat, fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, lentils, nuts, and seeds.
7. Dairy, soy, beans, and legumes are sources of leucine.
8. Phenylalanine is in dairy, meat, poultry, soy, fish, beans, and nuts.
9. Tryptophan is in most high-protein foods, including wheat germ, cottage cheese, chicken, and turkey.
Cathy Cassata (02-02-2016), “What Are Amino Acids?”، www.everydayhealth.com
“What to know about essential amino acids”, www.medicalnewstoday.com