Enhance your well-being with amino acids
The vital building blocks of life are the organic compounds known as amino acids. They link together to form chains, creating the foundations for peptides and proteins and provide an alternative energy source for cells.
After water, amino acids in the form of proteins constitute the largest component of cells, muscles and other tissues within our body. In addition to protein synthesis, amino acids are also involved in a wide range of physiological and pathological processes necessary for optimal body function.
Amino acids are made from a central carbon atom, an amino group (-NH2), a carboxyl group (-COOH) and a side change. The key components of an amino acid are hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen. Additional elements can be found within the side chain and these variations can be used to distinguish between the different amino acids.
There are a range of classifications that can be used to group amino acids. Structurally, they can be divided based on the location of the amino functional group, either as alpha, delta, beta or gamma. They can also be classified depending on the type of side chain group (acyclic, aromatic, sulphur or hydroxyl-containing, aliphatic), their polarity, and whether they are basic, neutral or acidic.
However, one of the most practical amino acid classifications comes from understanding how we source these vital organic compounds. The common amino acids needed by humans are classified into three categories: essential, non-essential, and conditional.
Essential amino acids are those that our body is unable to manufacture and they must be obtained through our diet. There are nine essential amino acids and they include: leucine, histidine, valine, isoleucine, threonine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine and tryptophan.
Non-essential amino acids can be manufactured within our body independent of our diet. They include glutamic acid, alanine, aspartic acid and asparagine.
Conditional amino acids are those that are sometimes considered as ‘essential’ during periods of stress and illness. They include cysteine, arginine (R), tyrosine, glutamine, serine, proline, ornithine, and glycine.
By understanding how we obtain amino acids, it’s possible to learn how to better support a healthy body and enhance our well-being. It also offers an opportunity to help safeguard our body from various diseases.
Amino acids play many vital roles within our body. Below, we have outlined some of the various functions performed by amino acids.
Protein Formation: Scientists have identified more than five hundred different amino acids within nature. However, only twenty-two are involved in the process by which RNA (derived from DNA) makes protein (known as translation). These types of amino acids are referred to as proteinogenic amino acids. Twenty of these amino acids are considered common, while the other two, pyrrolysine and selenocysteine, are integrated into proteins using unique synthetic mechanisms.
Proteinogenic amino acids contribute to structural components of your body, including skin, brain, muscle, eyes, hair, and internal organs. Haemoglobin, enzymes, myoglobin, antibodies and many hormones are molecules incorporating proteins. The unique structures of the various proteins are determined by the sequence of associated amino acids.
These molecules are responsible for stopping the oxidation of other molecules and the production of harmful free radicals. These free radicals damage cells, contribute to aging and increase our susceptibility to disease. There are several important amino acids with antioxidant properties: glutathione, lysine, methionine and glycine. Glutathione is an extremely potent and important antioxidant. It helps to boost the immune system and flush free radicals out of the body. Lysine and methionine are precursors to carnitine, which supports antioxidant activity and boost mitochondrial function.
Without the amino acids R and citrulline, our body wouldn’t be able to produce NO. In the absence of this reactive gas, our body wouldn’t function. NO is critical signalling molecule involved in many cellular and physiological processes, including, but not limited to: blood circulation, immune defence and neurotransmission. NO has been extensively studied and acclaimed as the ‘Molecule of the Year’ in 1992 due to its fundamental role in immunology, neuroscience and physiology. Consequently, citrulline and R are two vital amino acids necessary to support our body.
Sources of amino acids
The body does not store amino acids in the way that it stores excess starch and protein as fat for later use. Consequently, amino acids must be constantly replaced as they are used. While a large portion of the amino acids we require are produced from within the body, essential amino acids need to be sourced elsewhere. Our diet is the best supply of amino acids.
The richest sources of amino acids are animal derived and come from foods such as poultry, meat, seafood, dairy and eggs. Plant sources of amino acids are also important, although different plants offer different amino acids. For example, beans are rich in lysine, while grains are lysine poor.
To ensure that your body has access to all the necessary amino acids it’s essential to have a balanced diet. Fresh, raw foods are ideal as they maintain a high concentration of amino acids. Foods that have been frozen and cooked are exposed to cellular damage due to oxidation and this can reduce the nutritional benefits. Highly processed foods are very poor sources of amino acids and should only been consumed in moderation.
There are a number of foods commonly referred to as ‘superfoods’ due to their rich amino acid content and antioxidant properties. Regularly including these foods in your diet can help to support all the physiological and pathological processes needed for the body to properly function. They will also help to boost the immune system and overall well-being. Some of these important foods include legumes, pulses, salmon, spinach, blueberries, broccoli, walnuts, almonds, avocados, green tea, cherries, cranberries, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, whole grains, and spirulina. This is just a small sample of the many foods that offer great benefits to our body.
It’s wise to keep your diet in balance and not to over indulge in one particular amino acid rich food source. While the body can expel surplus amino acids or convert them to energy, a continuous, excessive supply can overwork the kidneys. This can be problematic for anyone with an impaired kidney function. A sensible, balanced diet will eliminate this problem.
If you’re unable to maintain a regular, balanced diet there are plenty of amino acid supplements available. These can be taken to ensure that you’re getting an adequate supply of essential amino acids and help to support the body during periods of illness or prolonged stress. If you have any underlying health issues it’s recommended that you consult a health care professional before taking supplements.
When we think about healthy living, many people prescribe to regular exercise and avoiding toxins such as tobacco smoke and excess alcohol. We all know that our diet plays an important role in our well-being. However, very few people understand just how vital amino acids are to our health and the array of benefits they offer.
Without amino acids our body wouldn’t function. Learning how amino acids regulate physiological and pathological processes provides us with an opportunity to promote and maintain a healthy body. We can actively consume certain foods to help improve our immune system, as well as prevent and treat certain diseases. We can enhance our energy supply and protein synthesis to build muscles, strength and endurance. We can also stimulate brain function and improved cognitive awareness. Our overall well-being is supported and improved by amino acids.