amino acid

Amino Acids – Why Do You Need Them?

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Amino acids are organic compounds consisting of nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and other elements.

Your body requires 20 different amino acids in order to grow and function properly. Although all 20 amino acids are important for your health, only 9 amino acids are classified as essential; otherwise known as essential amino acids. The essential amino acids include:

  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan 
  • Valine.

These essential amino acids cannot be produced by your body and must be obtained through your diet. The best sources of essential amino acids are animal protein such as meat, eggs, and poultry. When you consume protein, it will be broken down into amino acids. These amino acid compounds are then used to help your body with numerous processes such as increasing muscle volume and growth, as well as regulating your immune function.

However, there are also non-essential amino acids that are classified as conditionally essential, in that they are only essential under certain circumstances such as illness or stress. 

An example is arginine, which is required for those who want to speed up wound recovery, and can boost one’s ability to perform exercises. Arginine must be consumed through one’s diet in order to meet one’s body’s needs.

Benefits of Essential Amino Acids

Essential amino acids have their own purposes in your body. The proper amount of amino acids will provide you with the following benefits:

  • Prevent decrease of muscle volume.
  • Improve your sleep quality and mood.
  • Help lose weight
  • Boost performance in sports and various physical activities.

Signs of Amino Acids Deficiency

Protein deficiency is a rare disorder caused by a single factor. It is usually accompanied by deficiencies in food and other nutrients resulting from insufficient food intake.

The symptoms commonly develop in malnourished children. Low protein intake can be characterised by shrinkage of muscle tissues, uneven muscle growth, edema (swelling of body parts), thin and brittle hair, as well as skin lesions.

Biochemical changes in the body include low serum albumin and hormonal imbalance. Edema and loss of muscle and hair volume are prominent signs in adults.

Identifying Types of Amino Acids

There are many types of amino acids, but only nine are considered essential for your body growth. The nine essential amino acids are:

  • Lysine
    Lysine plays a major role in the formation of protein synthesis, hormone and enzyme production and calcium absorption. Lysine is also important for producing energy, strengthening immune function and the production of collagen and elastin.
  • Histidine
    Histidine is used to produce histamine, a significant neurotransmitter for immune response, digestion, sexual function, and sleep-wake cycles. It is essential to maintain the myelin sheath, the protector that surrounds nerve cells.
  • Threonine
    Threonine is a major part of structural proteins such as collagen and elastin, which are essential components of skin and connective tissue. Threonine also plays a role in controlling fat metabolism and the immune system of the body.
  • Methionine
    Methionine plays a key role in metabolism and detoxification. Methionine is also required for tissue growth and absorption of zinc and selenium, minerals essential for your health.
  • Valin
    Valine is one of the three branched-chain amino acids. It has a chain branching to one side of its molecular structure. Valine helps stimulate muscle growth and regeneration and is involved in the body’s energy production.
  • Isoleucine
    Isoleucine is involved in muscle metabolism and highly concentrated in muscle tissue. Isoleucine also serves as immune function controller, hemoglobin producer, and energy regulator.
  • Leucine
    Similar to valine, leucine is a branched-chain amino acid that is essential for protein synthesis and muscle repair. Leucine also helps regulate blood sugar levels, stimulates wound healing and develops growth hormones.
  • Phenylalanine
    Phenylalanine is a precursor for tyrosine, the monoamine neurotransmitters dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Phenylalanine plays an integral role in the structure and function of proteins and enzymes and the production of other amino acids.
  • Triptofan
    Although it is known as the frequent cause of sleepiness, tryptophan offers many other functions. Tryptophan is required for maintaining proper nitrogen balance and is a precursor for serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates appetite, sleep and mood.

Foods to Boost Amino Acids Intake

Health experts and doctors used to believe that you should eat foods that provide all nine essential amino acids in one meal. For example, if you eat meat, eggs, milk, tofu, or any other food with all the essential amino acids, you would still need to supplement your food intake with a combination of two or more plant-based foods such as rice and beans.

However, it is different now. Vegetarian or vegans can get their essential amino acids from a variety of plant-based foods throughout the day. They do not have to eat them all at one go.

The following are the most common food sources of essential amino acids:

  • Lysine can be found in meat, eggs, soybeans, black beans, quinoa and pumpkin seeds.
  • Histidine can be found in meat, fish, poultry, nuts and seeds,
  • Threonine can be found in cottage cheese and wheat germ
  • Methionine can be found in eggs, seeds and nuts.
  • Valine can be found in soybeans, cheese, peanuts, mushrooms, whole grains, and vegetables.
  • Isoleucine can be found in meat, fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, lentils, nuts, and seeds.
  • Leucine can be found in milk, soy, and nuts.
  • Phenylalanine can be found in milk, meat, poultry, soybeans, fish and varying types of nuts
  • Tryptophan can be found in high-protein foods, including wheat germ, cheese, chicken, and turkey

All of the above are examples of foods high in essential amino acids. Every protein source, whether from plant-based or animal-based foods, will contain at least several essential amino acids.

Recommended Daily Intake of Amino Acids

In order for amino acids to work optimally, you have to know the amount of amino acids your body needs. The recommended daily intake per 1 kg of body weight for the nine essential amino acids are:

  • Lysine: 38 mg
  • Valine: 24 mg
  • Leucine: 42 mg
  • Histidine: 14 mg
  • Threonine: 20 mg
  • Tryptophan: 5 mg
  • Isoleucine: 19 mg
  • Methionine (+ the non-essential amino acid cysteine): 19 mg
  • Phenylalanine (+ non-essential amino acid tyrosine): 33 mg

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