What Are Amino Acids
Amino acids are separated into two classes: essential and non-essential. There are a total of 20 amino acids that the body utilizes. Of these, 9 are categorized as essential and 11 as non-essential. Essential amino acids, also known as indispensable amino acids, must be obtained through the foods we eat since the body does not manufacture them naturally. The 9 essential amino acids are tryptohan, valine, lysine, threonine, isoleucine, methionine, histidine, and phenylalanine.
Non-essential amino acids are actually necessary to the human body despite their classification. They are produced by the body so it is not essential to acquire them through diet. Of the 11 non-essential amino acids, 8 are known as “conditional” amino acids. During times of extreme stress or illness the body is often unable to produce sufficient amounts of these amino acids to meet the body’s needs. Conditional amino acids include arginine, glutamine, tyrosine, cysteine, glycine, proline, serine, and ornithine. The remaining 3, alanine, asparagine, and aspartate, are non-essentials.
Amino Acids Functions
Amino acids work within the body to combat health issues such as diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, erectile dysfunction, arthritis, and insomnia. They also build proteins, synthesize neurotransmitters, help in the production of red blood cells, maintain healthy nerve cells, and protect cardiovascular health. In young people, amino acid deficiencies have to been shown to result in negative health issues such as diabetes, acne, mood swings, and hair loss. Other amino acid deficiencies can be traced to allergies, autoimmune disorder, depression, and neurological problems.
How To Get Amino Acids
Amino acid requirements are specific to each, but by eating a diet that provides 100% of the RDA for total protein (46g daily for women and 56g for men), the body’s amino acid requirements are usually met. Supplementation of amino acids and proteins to the body via pills and powders is a questionable practice. Until recently, isolated amino acids have not been available to us since we didn’t have knowledge of how to extract them. Some suggest that our bodies are not equipped to handle supplementation of amino acids. As a result, some recommend that amino acids be provided to the body in a natural manner by eating foods such as meat, fish, milk, eggs, beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
Certain amino acids compete for access to a limited number of transporters in your body. Supplementation of some amino acids can cause a deficiency in others. For example, tryptophan and branch chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) use the same carrier system. So if somebody is supplementing branch chain amino acids to help with athletic performance then they may end up with lower moods and have trouble sleeping, since tryptophan is used in the production of serotonin.
Just as it is important to have enough of the necessary amino acids in the body, it is also important to make sure there are not excessive amounts. Arginine supplementation can increase the risk of bleeding and give abnormally high blood potassium levels. The amino acids tyrosine and phenylalanine can cause an increase in blood pressure when ingested in excess. They can also cause dizziness, fatigue, and rapid heartbeat. These symptoms are intensified in people who take MAO inhibitors and antidepressants.
Excessive levels of cysteine in the body raises a red flag to the system and initiates the formation of chemicals which falsely indicate to the body that it is not receiving enough oxygen. In response, the body narrows the arteries and increases blood pressure in the lungs, which leads to swelling of the heart. Cysteine also changes the design of insulin molecules, rendering them unable to perform their function in helping to metabolize sugar. For those who are diabetic or pre-diabetic, this can have dangerous consequences. For those who are affected by herpes outbreaks, excessive amounts of cysteine in the body has been shown to cause more frequent and more intense outbreaks. In the same way amino acids promote muscle growth, they can also promote viral growth.
Amino Acid therapy is used by some to combat a variety of maladies. Depression, anxiety, ADHD, addiction, Parkinson’s disease, weight loss, and even cancer can be treated according to practitioners of amino acid therapy. The effects of amino acids have been studied on a large scale, we know their purpose and how they function. However, the use of amino acids as medicine has not been studied as intensely so many of the medicinal applications of amino acids need further research. If you decide to try amino acid therapy talk to a health care professional to be sure you’re getting the necessary cofactors and coenzymes.
There are some medicinal uses currently used for amino acids. Branch chain amino acids are used medically to reduce brain swelling due to liver disease. They can be given intravenously after a widespread infection or serious injury. BCAAs are also given to people who are confined to bed in order to slow muscle wasting. According to the Journal Of Nutrition, branch chain amino acids have been shown to reduce central fatigue during exercise and in some situations improve physical performance.
Like any substance that is beneficial to the human body, it is still possible to have too much of a good thing, with unhealthy results. Always consult your doctor prior to taking any type of supplement, particularly if you are already taking prescription medications.
For more info about the functions of specific amino acids check out this post by Dr. Ray Sahelian.