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Amino Acids Explained
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Topics: Amino Acids

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Amino acids are the building blocks of protein; growth, repair and maintenance of all cells are dependent upon them. Next to water, protein makes up the greatest portion of our body weight. Amino acids that must be obtained from the diet are called essential amino acids, and those that the body can manufacture from other sources are called non essential amino acids. The body has twenty different amino acids. Under normal conditions, twelve of these amino acids are nonessential and eight are essential.

Essential amino acids

  • Isoleucine: This is needed for hemoglobin formation, and stabilizes and regulates blood sugar and energy levels. This amino acid has been found to be deficient in people suffering from certain mental and physical disorders.

  • Leucine: This works with other animo acids to promote the healing of muscle tissue, skin, and bones, lowers blood sugar levels and aids in increasing growth hormone production.
  • Lysine: This aids in calcium absorption and maintains a proper nitrogen balance in the body. It also helps form collagen (which makes up cartilage and connective tissue), and aids in the production of antibodies.

  • Methionine: A powerful anti-oxidant and a good source of sulfur, which prevents disorders of the hair, skin, and nails. It also assists the breakdown of fats, thus helping to prevent a buildup of fat in the liver and arteries, and detoxifies harmful agents such as lead and other heavy metals; and protects against the effects of radiation.

  • Phenylalanine: This amino acid is used by the brain to produce norepinephrine, a chemical that transmits signals between nerve cells in the brain; promotes alertness and vitality; aids memory and learning; and is used to treat arthritis, depression and migraines.

  • Threonine: This helps maintain proper protein balance in the body and is important for the formation of collagen, elastin and tooth enamel.

  • Tryptophan: A natural relaxant, it helps alleviate insomnia by inducing normal sleep; reduces anxiety and depression and stabilizes mood; helps the immune system function properly; aids in weight control by reducing appetite, and enhances the release of growth hormones.

  • Valine: This is needed for muscle metabolism and coordination, tissue repair, and for the maintenance of proper nitrogen balance in the body and is helpful in treating liver and gallbladder disease.

Non Essential Amino Acids

The body can synthesize these amino acids for itself, provided there is enough nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen available.

  • Alanine
  • Arginine
  • Aspartic acid
  • Cysteine
  • Glutamic acid
  • Glutamine
  • Glycine
  • Ornithine
  • Proline
  • Serine
  • Taurine
  • Tyrosine

Food Sources of Amino Acids

Foods typically rich in all amino acids include chicken, fish, eggs, dairy products, and red meat. Plant sources of amino acids include dried beans, peas, soy, nuts, and seeds. Although plant sources generally lack one or more of the essential amino acids, when combined with whole grains such as rice, or by eating nuts or seeds with legumes, all the essential amino acids can be obtained.


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