What Are Amino Acids & Why Do You Need Them?
Many people know that amino acids are an important part of their nutritional health. However, the general public does not understand what amino acids are, which ones are the most important, or what function they serve in the body.
Amino acids are organic compounds used for protein synthesis, tissue repair, and nutrient absorption in our bodies. Generally speaking, the body uses amino acids as building blocks to make protein, which is used to build muscle, repair any damage, and break down food, among other important bodily functions. We will now take a look at some of the more specific functions of each amino acid.
Essential Amino Acids
Many amino acids can be produced by the body, but there are several that cannot. These compounds, known as essential amino acids, must be obtained from the food or supplements that you consume.
- Lysine — This amino acid plays a key role in protein for building muscle and can help the body recover from injuries, among other functions*.
- Phenylalanine — A precursor to the non-essential amino acid tyrosine, phenylalanine is important to the structure and function of proteins and enzymes and the production of other amino acids.
- Methionine — This amino acid may aid in proper metabolism and detoxification.
- Threonine — Abundant in meat products, this amino acid helps to promote the growth of the thymus gland and plays a key role in the immune defense of cells.
- Isoleucine, leucine, valine — These three compounds compose a group of amino acids known as branched-chain amino acids. They are known to stimulate the building of protein in muscle and possibly reduce muscle breakdown*. As such, they are often found in fitness supplements.
- Tryptophan — Tryptophan can aid relaxation and sleep regulation and is abundant in turkey.
- Histidine — As its name may imply, this amino acid is vital in the production of histamine, which may be better known from the class of allergy drugs known as antihistamines. While histamine is released during certain allergic reactions, it is also important in the repair of cells.
Non-Essential Amino Acids
The remaining amino acids, known as non-essential amino acids, are produced by the body and usually do not require any supplementation from food or other sources, although in some instances, essential amino acids are needed for the production of non-essential acids.
- Glycine — Glycine can help with the absorption of calcium in the body. It may also play a key role in the manufacturing of hormones and overall health of the immune system*.
- Alanine — This amino acid aids in the process of metabolizing alcohol and can help support the proper functioning of the liver. It may also help regulate cholesterol levels and, like most amino acids, possibly boosts the immune system*.
- Serine — Serine can help with fat metabolism, muscle and tissue growth, and the creation of cell membranes.
- Cysteine — Playing an important role in the production of skin collagen, this amino acid can be used to keep our skin strong and healthy. It also has a part to play in the detoxification of the body.
- Aspartic acid — Playing a primary role in the formation of urea, it also aids in stamina and the health of the brain and nervous systems. It is a precursor to several other amino acids, playing a role in the creation of asparagine, arginine, lysine, and methionine.
- Glutamic acid — Glutamic acid is an amino acid used that turns into glutamate in our bodies. Glutamate can help nerve cells in the brain to send and receive information from other cells and may be involved in learning and memory*.
- Asparagine — Discovered from asparagus, this amino acid can help the body produce energy and plays a role in the central nervous system. It is produced in part from aspartic acid.
- Glutamine — This is the most common amino acid in the body, and probably the most well-known. It is known to protect the stomach and intestinal tract as well as help with immune function and cellular repair*.
- Arginine — Helpful in removing ammonia from the body, this amino acid also aids in the production of nitric oxide, which opens up the veins and helps to enhance blood flow.
- Tyrosine — As a precursor to epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine, this amino acid is an important part of the adrenal production pipeline. It also can support the thyroid gland and the creation of melanin in the hair and skin.
- Proline — Proline plays one of the biggest roles in the moisturization of skin, as studies have shown that its presence is correlated with the natural moisturizing factor of the skin*. A significant amount of the collagen in the skin is made up of proline.
Amino acids play a role in almost every part of the body. Although there are many non-essential amino acids that you cannot directly control, there are several essentials amino acids that can be consumed as part of your daily diet, both through foods and supplements. As such, a balanced diet supplemented with amino acids is important to keeping your body healthy.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.