Amino acids are molecules used by all living things to make proteins. Proteins are found in every cell of the body. They serve as molecular tools. Depending on their structure, proteins fulfil different tasks. For example, they enable cell movements, transport certain substances or facilitate chemical reactions.
In biochemistry, more than 400 amino acids are known to have a biological function. To function properly, the human body needs about 20 different amino acids. Nine of these are called essential amino acids. These must be taken in through the diet. Essential amino acids are found in a variety of foods, such as meat, eggs and dairy products.
What are amino acids?
Amino acids are organic compounds consisting of carbon (C), hydrogen (H), oxygen (O) and nitrogen (N). Unlike amino acids, fats and carbohydrates do not contain nitrogen (N). Therefore, amino acids are the only source of nitrogen essential to the body.
There are 23 protein-producing (proteinogenic) amino acids. They serve many purposes, but especially in the formation of proteins and body tissues, such as muscles, skin, hair or blood vessels. However, amino acids also play a role in almost all metabolic processes. They also influence important functions such as the transport of nutrients, neurotransmitters and build enzymes and hormones. If there is a deficiency or imbalance of amino acids, the body cannot function optimally.
Amino acids influence virtually all metabolic processes. They play a role in the work of the immune system, body building, hair growth, male sexual function, blood vessel regulation, healthy joints, weight loss, providing energy and restful sleep.
What are the different types of amino acids?
Amino acids are divided into three different types:
- Essential amino acids
Conditionally essential amino acids
Non-essential amino acids
Non-essential and conditionally essential amino acids are produced by the body independently of food intake. In contrast, essential amino acids are absorbed from food. A protein-rich diet or dietary supplementation is therefore important to ensure that our bodies have enough amino acids. The nine essential amino acids that the human body cannot produce include:
This amino acid plays an important role in immune function, sexual function, digestion and sleep. Histidine is also involved in the production of neurotransmitters.
Leucine helps the body make proteins and growth hormones. The amino acid also helps build muscle tissue, heal wounds and regulate blood sugar levels.
Isoleucine is needed for muscle metabolism and is involved in the body’s immune function. It helps to form haemoglobin and regulate energy.
This amino acid is involved in the production of hormones and energy and in immune function.
Methionine supports tissue growth and metabolism. It detoxifies the body and helps absorb important minerals such as zinc and selenium.
This amino acid is needed for the production of dopamine, epinephrine and other neurotransmitters for the brain.
This amino acid is important in the production of collagen and elastin, giving the skin an elastic structure. Threonine plays an important role in fat metabolism and the immune system.
Tryptophan helps maintain nitrogen balance in the body and is important in the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which regulates mood and sleep.
This amino acid is responsible for muscle growth and tissue regeneration and is involved in energy production.
The human body produces the remaining eleven of the required amino acids itself. These are called non-essential amino acids. They include:
Some of the non-essential amino acids are classified as conditionally essential. This means that they are only essential in the event of illness or stress. This includes the amino acids: arginine, cysteine, glutamine, tyrosine, glycine, ornithine, proline and serine.
What foods contain amino acids?
Essential amino acids are found in many foods. The best sources of amino acids are found in animal proteins such as beef, poultry and eggs. Animal proteins are most easily absorbed and used by our bodies.
Foods that contain all nine essential amino acids are called complete proteins. These foods include beef, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, soya, quinoa and buckwheat.
Foods that contain some but not all essential amino acids are called incomplete proteins. These foods include nuts , seeds, beans and some grains. People on vegetarian or vegan diets need to use several types of incomplete proteins to ensure that they are consuming all nine essential amino acids.
Health benefits of amino acids
Amino acids have a positive effect on well-being, so it is important to get enough of them in your daily diet. Essential amino acids are found in many foods such as beef, eggs, nuts, fish and beans. Some people rely on amino acid supplements to ensure they get enough. However, other people may be deficient. People whose bodies are low in these vital nutrients will not feel well. An adequate supply of essential amino acids provides the following benefits.
Proper amino acid levels are important for muscle development and strength. Amino acids help regulate the balance between atrophy and growth.
Amino acids, together with a protein-rich diet, increase muscle growth in athletes. They also help to shorten the recovery phase.
Joints and cartilage
Amino acids provide essential sulphur to the cartilage of your joints.
Blood sugar levels
Amino acids are beneficial for blood sugar levels.
Strong immune system
Amino acids are important building blocks of the immune system. They form white blood cells and support the body’s own defences.
Restful sleep and good mood
Sleep and mental sharpness are influenced by amino acids such as glutamine and tryptophan. Supplementing with these amino acids is one way to support sleep naturally.
Healthy blood vessels and blood pressure
Amino acids play a role in dilating blood vessels and can improve their flexibility, helping to regulate blood pressure.
Better hair volume
Hair is largely made up of cysteine and methionine. Combining these amino acids with vitamins can stimulate hair growth. Beautiful hair needs the right nutrients.
Improving male sexual function
The fine blood vessels of the penis are particularly prone to circulatory problems. Amino acids can help with this.
Should amino acids be taken as a food supplement?
As a rule, all the essential amino acids that the human body needs can be found in a healthy, balanced diet. Some people take amino acid supplements to sleep better, improve their mood and enhance athletic performance.
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