Amino acids are essential building blocks of proteins. It also plays an important role in metabolism and in ensuring that our body processes and bodily functions are working efficiently. Proteins are needed by all (if not most) of our body’s cells as they control cellular reactions and processes.
There are 20 known amino acids, and the human body is capable of producing only 10 of these. The rest of the amino acids must be obtained through the food that we eat. If we fail to get enough of even 1 from the 10 essential amino acids that our body cannot produce, our body’s proteins will break down. Most of our body parts are made up of protein: muscles, nails, hairs, blood, tissues and cells. Plus, protein is also needed in order for the body to maintain its various functions. So imagine what protein breakdown can do to our bodies.
The 10 amino acids that can be produced by the body are as follows:
Remember that the body can only do so much, and so it needs all the help that it can get. Listed below are the rest of the amino acids which we all have to obtain either from the food that we eat or through supplementation. But keep in mind that our body cannot store excess amino acids like it does with starch and fat. So in the case of amino acids, we do not have “reserved” amounts for later use. This is the reason why it is very important that we obtain these essential amino acids every day.
Arginine helps in the synthesis of protein. It regulates platelet aggregation and also lowers blood pressure. Arginine, once inside the body, is mainly converted to nitric oxide, which helps blood vessels to relax. Because of blood vessel relaxation, the circulation of blood is improved, especially in distal areas such as the extremities. Additionally, arginine may also possess antioxidant characteristic.
A person who is deficient in arginine may experience sexual maturity delays, impaired insulin production, impaired tolerance to glucose as well as an impaired fat metabolism by the liver.
Arginine is abundant in foods that are rich in protein. Examples of these are chocolate, oats, wheat, seafoods, chicken, turkey, coconut, Brazil nuts, walnuts and peanuts. Chickpea and soybeans are also excellent natural sources of this kind of amino acid.
Histidine plays an important role in maintaining the health of myelin sheaths – structures that protects nerve cells and facilitates impulse transmission from one nerve cell to another. Also, histidine aids in the production of white blood cells (WBCs) and red blood cells (RBCs); protects us from the effects of radiation damage; and helps in decreasing blood pressure levels.
Deficiency in histidine may cause painful bony joints. Thus, it is important for us to obtain histidine from natural sources such as rye, wheat, bananas, green vegetables and rice. Recommended doses of histidine is between 0.5-2.0 grams each day.
This amino acid is needed for the formation of haemoglobin which is an important component of our red blood cells because it contains oxygen that is required by the body’s tissues to live. Isoleucine has also been known to regulate and stabilize blood sugar levels and it helps improve energy levels, increase endurance and help in the repair of muscle tissues.
Important isoleucine food sources include soy protein, rye, lentils, fish, chickpeas, chicken, cashews and almonds.
The amino acid Leucine encourages bone healing, skin repair as well as muscle tissue restoration and is therefore recommended for people who have just undergone surgery and in the stage of recovery. Leucine has also been known to help increase the production of growth hormones and it also decreases elevated levels of blood sugar.
Food sources that are rich in leucine are whole wheat, soya beans, nuts, meat, beans and brown rice.
Lysine is needed by the body, especially among children, because it promotes bone development and proper growth. It aids in the absorption of calcium; production of enzymes, hormones and antibodies; and in the formation of collagen tissue. This particular amino acid is especially helpful for people who are recovering from sports injuries and surgery. Additionally, lysine also helps lower elevated levels of triglycerides in the blood.
People who are deficient in lysine are prone to weight loss, delayed growth, poor appetite, body weakness, irritability, poor concentration, hair loss, and anemia.
Natural food sources of lysine are yeast, soya products, red meat, potatoes, lima beans, fish, and eggs.
Methionine assists in breaking down fats, which prevents fat build-up in the liver as well as in the arteries which may cause constriction and obstruct the normal flow of blood to important organs such as the kidneys, heart and brain. This amino acid maintains the health of the digestive system; acts as a detoxifying agent; prevents brittle hair and muscle weakness; protects against the damaging effects of radiation; and is helpful for people diagnosed with osteoporosis.
Excellent food sources are yogurt, soya beans, onions, lentils, garlic, fish and beans.
Phenylalanine is a precursor of another amino acid, Tyrosine. Without phenylalanine, tyrosine – which synthesizes two important neurotransmitters necessary to maintain alertness, dopamine and norepinephrine – will not be produced. Phenylalanine is closely associated with effects such as elevated mood, decreased pain, better learning and memory, as well as suppression of appetite. It has been used in the management of conditions such as schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, obesity, migraines, menstrual cramps, depression and arthritis.
Sources include green, leafy vegetables, almonds, pistachio nuts, poultry products and legumes.
Threonine is Glycine’s precursor, another amino acid. Threonine is essential in tooth enamel, elastin and collagen formation. It also helps enhance the function of the immune system by aiding in antibody production.
Good sources of threonine are eggs, dairy and meats. Some small amounts are also found in beans, nuts and wheat germ.
Tryptophan is necessary for the body to produce Vitamin B3. It is good for the heart, suppresses appetite, alleviates stress, and it also helps relieve migraine headaches. People who are deficient in tryptophan may have problems such as diarrhea, dermatitis, indigestion and dementia. Food sources of tryptophan include soy protein, peanuts, meat and cottage cheese.
Valine has a stimulatory effect in the body. It helps in tissue repair as well as in muscle metabolism. Excellent food sources of valine are soy protein, peanuts, mushrooms, meat, grains and dairy products.