5 Amino Acids for Energy and Mood

Looking for a natural pick-me-up? Amino acids for energy naturally fuel your body throughout the day while also boosting your mood, and these five can be especially beneficial!

The popularity of natural energy drinks and aromatherapy products is a strong indicator of just how many people are seeking healthful ways to feel more energized and positive in their outlook on life. Even if you exercise routinely and eat a healthy diet with a variety of whole foods, sometimes you may feel like you need an extra pick-me-up. Substances like caffeine and alcohol in moderation can give you a boost, but this energy lift is often short-lived and sometimes followed by a let-down or energy “crash.” However, amino acids for energy naturally fuel your body throughout the day while also boosting your mood.

As building blocks of protein—the most plentiful substance in the body after water—amino acids help you function at your best in a variety of ways. In fact, processes as diverse as immune system function and muscle growth would break down without a steady supply of amino acids on hand to fuel growth, maintenance, and repair.

But what about the brain? If you’re curious to learn how amino acids affect this large and most complex of organs, as well as how your brain reacts to nutritional factors that can influence mood and energy, you first need to have a basic understanding of brain chemistry.

Brain Chemistry 101

Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that work in concert to shape how we perceive and learn from the environment around us. These pathways are established during growth and development and are instrumental in forming our personalities and outlook on life.

These same pathways also respond acutely to specific amino acids that cross the blood-brain barrier to act as building blocks of important neurotransmitters—or, in the case of glutamate and aspartate, as neurotransmitters in their own right.

In addition, with the exception of glycine, all amino acids can be found in two forms: L and D. But only the L form is used by the body. Keeping that in mind, here are five individual amino acids for energy that may help optimize neurotransmitter synthesis to help balance your energy levels and mood.

Amino Acids for Energy

Glutamine and Glutamate

L-glutamine is used to treat fatigue and depression, and also to boost immune function and muscle recovery. Under stressful conditions, your body consumes large amounts of glutamine, which is readily converted to glutamate by removal of an amine group (a group of organic compounds that contain nitrogen).

In fact, extreme stress, such as that caused by disease or severe injury, can deplete levels of glutamine and result in a life-threatening situation, requiring immediate supplementation.

Glutamine also protects the brain from ammonia toxicity, which generates free radicals and is implicated in the development of neurodegenerative diseases. Ammonia interferes with neuronal metabolism and reduces the amount of adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, the body is able to produce. This has a crucial effect on energy levels, as ATP is also known as the “molecular unit of currency” due to its role in storing and transporting chemical energy within cells.

Because of the number of neurons in the brain, this organ consumes more glucose than any other. And if glucose stores become depleted, the brain compensates by increasing glutamine metabolism. For this reason, glutamine is also known as “brain food,” and its consumption can result in less fatigue and elevated energy and mood.

Glutamate, the anion—or negatively charged ion—of glutamic acid, acts directly as an excitatory neurotransmitter and is also used widely in the brain. It plays a critical role in synaptic maintenance and plasticity, and even contributes to learning and memory.

Glutamate is also the metabolic precursor of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which inhibits neural transmissions and acts as an anxiolytic agent, reducing anxiety and calming nervous activity.

Phenylalanine and Tyrosine

Phenylalanine is an important building block for a number of proteins, including those involved in both hormone and neurotransmitter production. Dopamine, norepinephrine, and thyroid hormones are three key end products that are necessary for optimal brain and mental function.

Norepinephrine and epinephrine are catecholamines, which are responsible for the fight-or-flight response that increases heart rate, constricts blood vessels, and increases blood glucose. The adrenal glands secrete these neurotransmitters along with other stress hormones. Catecholamines are produced by the brain and sympathetic nervous system as well.

Dopamine is the main neurotransmitter supporting attention and motivation. It plays a key role in the “reward system” of your brain. Drugs and other substances that adversely affect memory, cognition, attention, learning, mood, and fine motor control do so via their effect on dopamine function. Both phenylalanine and tyrosine can serve as dietary precursors of dopamine.

When the amino acid phenylalanine is not used in specific reactions, it’s converted to tyrosine, a nonessential amino acid that is a direct precursor of both dopamine and mood- and energy-affecting catecholamines.

Supplemental L-tyrosine is promoted for alleviating fatigue, low mood and sex drive, depression, and anxiety. It’s also used in those suffering from thyroid problems resulting from an underactive thyroid gland, or hypothyroidism.

Tyrosine and phenylalanine can also be combined in supplement form, though some individuals appear to respond better to one or the other. However, as with many nutrient-based therapies, it’s worth exploring the various available options to find the appropriate balance for your individual needs.

Tryptophan

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that acts as a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is also known as a “happy chemical” because it creates feelings of calm and well-being. If serotonin levels are low, depression, anxiety, insomnia, extreme anger, and mood swings can occur.

Serotonin, or 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT), is derived from both tryptophan and 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). It is a primary regulator of not only mood and sleep but also sexual function, appetite, and digestion.

In fact, serotonin is crucial for normal gastrointestinal (GI) function and plays a critical role in GI motility and immune function, visceral sensitivity, and blood flow. Even more interesting is the fact that abnormalities in reuptake of this neurotransmitter have been linked to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Tryptophan supplements, sold commercially as L-tryptophan, have shown efficacy in alleviating symptoms resulting from low serotonin levels, including depression, anxiety, and insomnia. The amino acid also acts quickly to increase these levels. However, the amino acid 5-HTP has been found to be even more beneficial, as it crosses the blood-brain barrier and converts into serotonin more efficiently and has a more pronounced antidepressant effect.

Amino acids for energy and mood.

Amino Acid Therapy

There are many nuances to amino acid therapy, as various factors determine which amino acids are able to pass into the brain for conversion into mood-changing neurotransmitters. Protein intake, stress, intense exercise, and even sudden lifestyle changes can all affect amino acid metabolism.

If you’re experiencing issues with malnutrition or extreme stress, it’s a good idea to seek professional medical advice. However, if you’re one of the many simply seeking a natural source of energy to help you feel more energized in your day-to-day life, you might want to first make sure your diet is rich in high-quality proteins to ensure a steady supply of energy- and mood-boosting amino acids.

However, it’s also important to note that some individuals have experienced positive results with various free-form amino acid regimens. For example, most of us are probably familiar with the muscle soreness that follows a particularly intense workout. But a particular set of amino acids known as branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs, has been shown to actually increase the lactate threshold.

This means that you can actually exercise longer before lactic acid builds up in your muscles to the point where pain and soreness begin. BCAAs have also been shown to decrease post-workout muscle fatigue and increase muscle growth. However, BCAAs only work effectively when consumed as part of a complete essential amino acid blend.

So, as you can see, amino acids offer many benefits for energy and mood. Not only do they provide a natural way to shift brain chemistry, but they also offer up the possibility of achieving greater energy levels and a happier mood.

Encephalitis: What Causes Inflammation of the Brain?

Encephalitis is inflammation of the brain, and it can occur at any time and doesn’t favor any particular age, gender, race, or ethnicity. We’ve broken down the causes and symptoms of encephalitis as well as the treatments available so you can comfortably confront this intimidating condition.

Inflammation is a vital response of the body to injury and infection. Without it, the immune system wouldn’t intervene to heal damaged tissue or fight off dangerous pathogens. When the inflammatory process is working smoothly, it helps us conquer acute illnesses, such as upper respiratory infections. But when it goes awry, chronic inflammation can lead to diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease. Sometimes inflammation even affects the brain. And when inflammation of the brain occurs—but the spinal cord remains unaffected—it’s called encephalitis.

What Causes Inflammation of the Brain?

While the exact cause of encephalitis isn’t always clear, most cases are associated with viruses that have the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier—the semipermeable membrane surrounding the brain—and infect the central nervous system. Viral infections that have been known to cause encephalitis include:

  • Herpes viruses:
  • Enteroviruses:
    • Poliovirus
    • Coxsackievirus
  • Mosquito-borne viruses:
    • West Nile
    • La Crosse
    • St. Louis
  • Tick-borne viruses:
  • Rabies virus
  • Viruses generally associated with childhood:

Even though viruses are the main cause of encephalitis, the condition can also be the result of bacteria, parasites, noninfectious causes like drug allergies, demyelinating conditions such as multiple sclerosis, and autoimmune diseases, including a rare condition known as anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, which was only recently identified in 2007.

Anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis was largely brought to public attention by the memoir Brain on Fire and can result in a number of bizarre psychiatric symptoms, which has led experts to speculate that the disorder most likely explains the cases of so-called demonic possession that have been documented over the centuries.

Types of Encephalitis

There are two broad types of encephalitis, and which kind you have depends on how the infection attacks your body and how your body responds.

  • Primary encephalitisThe primary form of encephalitis occurs when the offending pathogen directly infects the brain.
  • Secondary encephalitis: The secondary form of encephalitis results when an infection occurring elsewhere in the body triggers an abnormal response in the immune system in which both the substance causing the infection and healthy brain cells are attacked. As this form of encephalitis often appears 2 to 3 weeks after the initial infection, secondary encephalitis is also known as postinfectious encephalitis.

Amino Re Input Updates Encephalitis: What Causes Inflammation of the Brain?

Symptoms of Encephalitis

Symptoms of brain inflammation can range from mild to severe. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), benign forms of encephalitis may present as mild flu-like symptoms. According to NINDS and the Mayo Clinic, those who do have symptoms often experience some of the following:

Flu-like symptoms: Brain fog Loss of consciousness
Fever
Headache
Muscle aches
Joint pain
Fatigue
Weakness
Confusion Seizures
Agitation Double vision
Hallucinations Impaired judgment
Difficulty hearing or speaking Memory loss
Partial paralysis or loss of sensation Personality changes

In cases of encephalitis involving young children, symptoms may also include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stiffness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Irritability

Diagnosing Encephalitis

After obtaining a medical history and performing a physical exam, your health care provider may order a series of tests to confirm the diagnosis of encephalitis. Tests commonly used to diagnose the condition include:

  • Computed tomography (CT)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Spinal tap
  • Brain biopsy
  • Urine or blood tests
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG)

Risk Factors for Encephalitis

According to the Encephalitis Society, approximately 250,000 cases of encephalitis have been diagnosed in the United States over the last decade. While that equates to only about 1 in 200,000 cases each year, several factors are known to increase the risk of developing the condition. These include:

  • Age: Young children and older adults are more at risk.
  • Weakened immune system: People with weakened immune systems due to conditions such as HIV, certain drugs, illnesses, or poor nutrition are more at risk.
  • Geographic location: People who live in areas where mosquito- and tick-borne diseases are common are more at risk.

Complications of Encephalitis

Most cases of encephalitis are relatively mild, and those affected generally recover within a few weeks with no long-term side effects. However, in severe cases, the resulting brain damage can lead to coma or even death. Other less life-threatening complications can occur as well and may persist for months or years. These include:

  • Memory problems
  • Fatigue
  • Personality changes
  • Speech and swallowing issues
  • Epilepsy
  • Mood disorders
  • Attention and concentration problems
  • Balance and coordination issues

People suffering from these types of long-term side effects will need additional therapy to improve functioning. Types of therapy that might be required include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Speech therapy

Encephalitis Treatment

Because encephalitis is considered a serious medical condition, even mild cases require hospitalization and close monitoring. Beyond that, specific care will be determined based on age, overall health, medical history, and disease severity. Treatment will also focus on addressing the underlying cause and symptoms and supporting overall well-being.

Mild cases of encephalitis may be treated with:

  • Bed rest
  • Fluids
  • Headache and fever medications

If the encephalitis is found to be the result of bacteria or fungi, the appropriate antibiotic or antifungal medication will be instituted.

Likewise, cases resulting from viruses are usually treated with antiviral medications even though not all viruses respond to antivirals. This is because the risk of severe complications with encephalitis, coupled with the fact that the specific virus may never be identified, leads many health care providers to opt for antivirals as a precaution.

Supportive treatment for severe cases of encephalitis may also include:

  • Intravenous (IV) fluids
  • Steroids
  • Anticonvulsant medications
  • Anti-inflammatories

Amino Acids for Encephalitis

Amino acids are well known as building blocks of protein and are needed for proper functioning of the entire body, including the immune system and brain. Some amino acids also offer anti-inflammatory and antiviral benefits.

Interestingly, recent research has even suggested a link between Alzheimer’s disease and HSV—one of the viruses known to cause encephalitis. In addition, like Alzheimer’s, herpes simplex encephalitis may lead to long-term memory loss. However, the amino acid lysine has the ability to suppress replication rates of the herpes virus and may therefore be a valuable addition to encephalitis treatment.

Recovering from Encephalitis

As you begin the process of recovering from encephalitis, it’s especially important to focus on ways to improve your overall health and help decrease levels of inflammation in the body. To this end, making dietary changes with the ability to reduce chronic inflammation may be particularly helpful. Some of these dietary changes include:

  • Eating more antioxidant-rich foods
  • Eating less red meat
  • Avoiding refined or processed foods
  • Cooking with healthy oils
  • Eating more healthy fats
  • Drinking plenty of filtered water

According to the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, the following supplements and herbs may also be helpful in rebuilding the body after encephalitis:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Vitamin C
  • Probiotics
  • Green tea
  • Cat’s claw
  • Garlic
  • Astragalus
  • Elderberry

Finally, it’s important to remember that early diagnosis and treatment are crucial for preventing potential complications of encephalitis, so be sure to seek immediate medical attention at the first sign of severe headache, fever, or altered consciousness.

Amino Re Input Updates Encephalitis: What Causes Inflammation of the Brain?

Your Brain on Sugar: How Sugar Affects the Brain and How to Kick the Addiction

While sugar is necessary for brain function, it can have harmful effects when overeaten. Some researchers call sugar craving an addiction, while other scientists have determined that sugar can affect far more than the waistline. Here’s science’s take on how sugar affects the brain.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has reported that the average American ingests approximately 47 pounds of cane sugar and 35 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup annually, or more than 20 teaspoons of sugar per day. In addition to being apparent in cake, cookies, and other sweet foods, it hides in many processed foods, such as tomato sauce, milk, and energy drinks. High-fructose corn syrup, an inexpensive liquid sweetener, is used in soft drinks, condiments, applesauce, and baby food.

While sugar is necessary for brain function, it can have harmful effects when overeaten. Some researchers call sugar craving an addiction, while other scientists have determined that sugar can affect far more than the waistline. Here’s science’s take on how sugar affects the brain.

How Sugar Affects the Brain

One form of sugar—glucose—fuels every cell in the human body as its primary energy source. The brain utilizes about half the sugar energy in the body. Glucose levels determine the efficiency of brain functions such as thinking, memory, and learning. According to Harvard researcher Vera Novak, MD, PhD, “The brain is dependent on sugar as its main fuel. It cannot be without it.”

While the brain requires glucose, too much of this sugar can be detrimental and lead to serious negative effects. Excess sugar consumption can cause cells to age prematurely and people to suffer from memory and cognitive function problems. Sugar’s negative impact on the brain is especially problematic in diabetes, according to Novak. High blood glucose levels can cause connectivity problems between different regions of the brain, brain shrinkage, and restricted blood flow, which can lead to functional decline.

The effects of too much sugar can also involve depression. A University College London study showed that in middle-aged participants, a dietary pattern of sugar-laden processed food is a risk factor for depression 5 years later.

Sugar Addiction

Scientists know that drugs can be addictive. Now they think that may be true of foods. Researchers at the National Center for Biotechnology Information have come up with “evidence for sugar addiction” by analyzing bingeing, withdrawal, craving, and cross-sensitization and their relationship to neurochemical changes in the brain—such as changes in dopamine and opioid receptor binding, enkephalin mRNA expression and dopamine and acetylcholine release in the nucleus accumbens—that also occur with addictive drugs.

The researchers believe that some people develop “an unhealthy dependence on palatable food that interferes with well-being.” Their evidence from animal studies suggests that sporadic access to sugar can trigger behavioral and neurochemical changes that look like the effects of substance abuse. They conclude that sugar is addictive.

Your Brain on Sugar

A recent British study at the University of Waterloo has linked diabetes with the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). They defined “an early glycation profile of human brain,” identified “early glycation and oxidation of macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF) in AD brain,” and determined that “glucose modified and oxidized MIF could be a molecular link between hyperglycemia and the dysregulation of the innate immune system in AD.” In other words, the inability of the body to process sugar (a characteristic of diabetes) leads to the progressive degeneration of neurons that cause severe cognitive decline. The study provided a molecular link between the two diseases using fluorescent phenylboronate gel electrophoresis.

The researchers pointed out critical differences in the glycation and migration profile of MIF between AD brain samples and controls. These differences seem to involve early carbohydrate modifications. MIF, which modulates insulin secretion, affects glucose homeostasis, and factors in diabetes could have “implications for the innate immune response to any nascent pathological AD lesions.”

According to Dr. Omar Kassaar, one of the researchers, “Excess sugar is well known to be bad for us when it comes to diabetes and obesity, but this potential link with Alzheimer’s disease is yet another reason that we should be controlling our sugar intake in our diets.” Another researcher, Dr. Tara Spires-Jones, added that the study “does not suggest that sugar directly causes Alzheimer’s… a better understanding of this type of risk will help scientists develop strategies to prevent or treat Alzheimer’s disease in the future.”

A UCLA animal study published in the Journal of Physiology in 2012 confirmed an association between sugar and brain health. It demonstrated that a diet consistently heavy in fructose decelerates the brain and disrupts memory and learning, and that omega-3 fatty acids can help mitigate this effect.

According to Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, a member of UCLA’s Brain Research Institute and Brain Injury Research Center and a professor of integrative biology and physiology in the UCLA College of Letters and Science, “Our findings illustrate that what you eat affects how you think. Eating a high-fructose diet over the long term alters your brain’s ability to learn and remember information. But adding omega-3 fatty acids to your meals can help minimize the damage. We’re less concerned about naturally occurring fructose in fruits, which also contain important antioxidants. We’re more concerned about the fructose in high-fructose corn syrup, which is added to manufactured food products as a sweetener and preservative.”

Researchers fed two groups of rats a fructose solution for 6 weeks. The experimental group was also given omega-3 fatty acids to protect the synapses from damage. Synapses are the circuitry between brain cells that facilitate learning and memory. Before being put on the experimental diet, the rats trained on a maze 2 times a day for 5 days. Researchers tested how well the rats recalled the route and escaped the maze after 6 weeks on the diet.

According to Gomez-Pinilla, “The second group of rats navigated the maze much faster than the rats that did not receive omega-3 fatty acids. The DHA-deprived animals were slower, and their brains showed a decline in synaptic activity. Their brain cells had trouble signaling each other, disrupting the rats’ ability to think clearly and recall the route they’d learned 6 weeks earlier. The rats that didn’t receive the omega-3s also exhibited symptoms of insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas that regulates blood sugar and synaptic transmission in the brain. When researchers examine the rats’ brains they discovered that insulin was not able to as effectively impact brain cells. Because insulin can penetrate the blood–brain barrier, the hormone may signal neurons to trigger reactions that disrupt learning and cause memory loss.”

While sugar is necessary for brain function, it can have harmful effects when overeaten. Some researchers call sugar craving an addiction, while other scientists have determined that sugar can affect far more than the waistline. Here’s science’s take on how sugar affects the brain.

Sugar and Memory

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic also believe that diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease are connected. Many people with diabetes have brain changes that are hallmarks of both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Each condition may exacerbate the harm caused by the other. The connection may happen because of the complex ways that type 2 diabetes affects the ability of the brain and other body tissues to use sugar (glucose) and respond to insulin.

Mayo Clinic researchers suggest that diabetes might add to the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment, a condition that entails more cognitive and memory problems than are typically a factor of normal aging. Such mild cognitive impairment could be the prologue to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Another study on the effects of too much sugar established a connection between a diet high in fructose and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease through the same pathway that causes type 2 diabetes. Some experts have said that Alzheimer’s and other brain disorders can be attributed to the constant burning of glucose for fuel by the human brain.

Sugar and Mental Health

The Whitehall II study investigated associations between sweet food/beverage intake and common mental disorders and depression, and examined the role of reverse causation (influence of mood on intake) as a possible explanation for the associations. In other words, the researchers were examining the influence of sugar on mood and the influence of mood on sugar consumption.

The study offered evidence that excessive sugar consumption increases the chance of incident mood disorders in men and limited evidence about recurrent mood disorders in both sexes. With a high prevalence of mood disorders, and sugar intake commonly 2 to 3 times the level recommended, the study suggested that promoting the reduction of sugar intake could lead to possible prevention of depression.

Does the Brain Need Sugar?

Sugar provides a way to cope with stress, according to research by Melanie Greenberg Ph.D. She explained that neuroscientists have demonstrated that sugar causes dopamine release in a primary component of the brain’s reward system called the nucleus accumbens, a brain region associated with motivation, novelty, and reward, as well as one that responds to cocaine and heroin. Sugar can change dopamine receptors, making them crave more of a substance to produce an effect. People can depend on sugar for pleasure and reward.

Consuming sugar can cause the release of endogenous opioids in the brain in the same way as taking drugs. Addiction to one substance may cause people to become dependent on other addictive substances that use similar brain chemistry. Eating too much sugar can trigger cravings, withdrawal, tolerance, and preoccupation with finding a sugary food or beverage, Greenberg said.

Breaking the Sugar Addiction

It’s time to give up that high-sugar diet. Consuming sugar in moderation by minimizing processed foods containing fructose and added sugar, as well as refined carbohydrates in foods such as cereals and waffles is a good start. Eat healthy fats, such as omega-3, saturated, and monounsaturated fats, as well as fermented foods. Drink water instead of soda.

Writing in Psychology Today Susan Biali M.D. provided a list of ways in which to break a sugar addiction:

  1. Find rewards that really work.
  2. Don’t switch in one addictive behavior for another.
  3. If you want a sweet treat, go for something low glycemic and healthy that won’t trigger you.
  4. Be aware of the “just one drink” phenomenon.
  5. Don’t have it in the house.

She concluded, “Don’t estimate the power of sugar. Seriously.” We’ll take her word for it.

5 Proven Health Benefits of Amino Acids

Amino acid supplements are popular in the bodybuilding world. But amino acids, while key muscle makers, perform many more health-enhancing feats. They can help improve mood, keep stress at bay, and even strengthen the immune system. Let’s take a look at 5 of the most celebrated benefits of amino acids.

Amino acids, fittingly nicknamed the building blocks of proteins, not only make up the protein you eat, but also join together to form proteins in your body. These proteins are the very foundation of your hair, nails, bones, muscles, cartilage, connective tissues, and skin. They are the proteins your body uses to build and repair tissues and to synthesize hormones and enzymes. When you eat dietary protein, your body breaks amino acids into their individual parts, and then uses these amino acids to build the protein your body requires. Given that amino acids are so integrated into the makeup of the human body, it’s hardly surprising that researchers have uncovered a plethora of health benefits of amino acids.

Amino acids play a key role in muscle health, and, for this reason, amino acid supplements are popular in the bodybuilding world. But amino acids, while key muscle makers, perform many more health-enhancing feats. While they undoubtedly play vital roles in processes such as muscle growth and muscle recovery, they also contribute to brain function. Research indicates that increasing your amino acid intake from food sources or by taking supplements can help improve mood and keep stress at bay. Plus, they can strengthen the immune system. Before diving deep into five scientifically validated health benefits of amino acids, let’s take a moment to go over some amino acid basics.

The Basics of Amino Acids

In scientific terms, amino acids can be defined as organic compounds composed of nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, along with a variable side chain group. Scientists have identified 20 different amino acids that the human body requires in order to properly develop and maintain itself. Though all 20 make essential contributions to your overall health, 9 of those amino acids have been categorized as essential amino acids (EAAs):

  1. Histidine
  2. Isoleucine
  3. Leucine
  4. Lysine
  5. Methionine
  6. Phenylalanine
  7. Threonine
  8. Tryptophan
  9. Valine

The reason scientists deemed those nine amino acids essential is that your body cannot independently produce them, making it essential that you obtain them from the food you eat or supplements you take.

Three of the nine essential amino acids exist in their own subcategory: the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). Those amino acids are:

  1. Isoleucine
  2. Leucine
  3. Valine

While many have touted the benefits of BCAA supplements, based on the impressive effects of those three specific amino acids, the truth is that to benefit from an increased supply of one amino acid, your body must have a balanced amount of all the essential amino acids.

The 11 amino acids necessary for human health that the body can produce on its own are called nonessential amino acids (NEAAs), because it’s not essential that you consume them.

However, the dividing line between essential amino acids and nonessential amino acids has more wiggle room than their names might initially lead you to believe. Enter the conditionally essential amino acids. Of the 11 nonessential amino acids, 7 have been identified as conditionally essential:

  1. Arginine
  2. Cysteine
  3. Glutamine
  4. Glycine
  5. Proline
  6. Serine
  7. Tyrosine

While your body has the ability to generate these amino acids, that ability becomes compromised under certain conditions, like if you become ill or are dealing with chronic stress. To illustrate this idea, let’s look at how this plays out with one specific conditionally essential amino acid: arginine. Researchers have found that your body cannot produce enough arginine on its own while fighting diseases such as cancer. Under those conditions, it becomes essential to augment your body’s supply of naturally produced arginine with supplemental arginine.

Now that you have a working understanding of the different types of amino acids relevant to human health, we can discuss some of the most exciting, research-backed health benefits associated with individual amino acids.

5 Proven Benefits of Amino Acids for Your Body and Mind

We rely on amino acids to perform a multitude of roles. An adequate intake of amino acids helps us build muscle, maintain mental focus, maximize exercise performance, and more. Amino acids contribute to crucial bodily functions such as:

  • Protein synthesis
  • Tissue growth and repair
  • Energy production
  • Immune defenses
  • Wound healing
  • Nutrient absorption

Individual amino acids have been shown to prevent muscle loss, increase energy, boost endurance and stamina, improve mood, decrease body fat percentage, speed recovery time, enhance immune health, optimize sleep quality, and more.

The essential amino acids, which your body cannot generate, can be found in high-quality sources of dietary protein. While eating a vegetarian or vegan diet may necessitate that you pay closer attention to your amino acid intake, it’s certainly possible to meet your body’s needs using only plant-based proteins. Furthermore, it can be beneficial to take concentrated doses in supplemental forms regardless of how healthy and balanced a diet you eat.

Essential amino acids are the only macronutrients required for survival. A normal diet containing high-quality proteins should deliver adequate amounts of essential amino acids to meet minimal requirements. However, amino acid supplements can provide benefits not achievable with even high-quality protein food sources.

Amino Acid Benefit #1: Muscle Protector

Muscle tissue consists mainly of proteins, and protein is made of amino acids. It stands to reason that amino acids would have a pronounced effect on muscle growth. As you may be aware, increasing your amino acid intake can boost muscle mass, strength, and function by stimulating muscle protein synthesis, or the building of new muscle tissue.

Did you know, however, that amino acids also help prevent muscle breakdown during exercise or between meals? In other words, they not only encourage muscle growth, but they also protect the gains you’ve worked so hard to build.

When you exercise, your body uses glucose, fats, and protein as fuel sources. If the body is low in fuel, it will start pulling protein from muscles, chipping away at your overall muscle mass. For instance, endurance activities quickly drain your stores of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). To avoid muscle loss, it’s important to supply your body with more essential amino acids, either by eating dietary protein or supplementing with amino acids. This ensures amino acid levels in your bloodstream stay stable and keeps your muscles protected.

Amino Acid Benefit #2: Energy Generator

As I touched on above, your body requires fuel to carry out tasks such as contracting your muscles. However, the body stores very little energy. The energy stored in your muscle takes the form of creatine phosphate.

Three amino acids—arginine, methionine, and glycine—join together to form creatine. The process of breaking down creatine phosphate releases energy that can provide an immediate source of fuel for muscle contraction. It gives us the energy boost we need for activities like sprinting or lifting heavy weights.

Because only a small quantity of creatine phosphate can be stored in our muscles at any given time, we depend on a different kind of cellular energy called adenosine triphosphate (typically abbreviated to ATP) for more sustained exercise activities. As with creatine phosphate, the breakdown of ATP provides energy that can fuel muscle contraction. When ATP is broken down, it forms adenosine diphosphate (ADP). Your body then regenerates ATP from ADP and phosphate in small organelles in the muscle called mitochondria.

There are a number of proteins in the mitochondria that enable the production of ATP from the oxidation of glucose, fatty acids, and amino acids. These specialized proteins are called enzymes. The more mitochondrial enzymes you have, the more ATP can be produced and the more energy is available to fuel muscle function. The number of mitochondrial enzymes depend on the number of mitochondria and the number of oxidative enzymes in each mitochondria.

Amino acids play a crucial role in increasing both the number of mitochondria available to generate ATP as well as the number of enzymes within each mitochondria. Both the formation of new mitochondria and the enzymes they contain result from protein synthesis.

A proportionately blended amino acid supplement stimulates the production of new mitochondria and increases the number of enzymes in the mitochondria by stimulating mitochondrial protein synthesis. Thus, an ample availability of dietary amino acids is an indispensable part of producing the energy our bodies need to keep functioning and to perform at their best.

Amino Acid Benefit #3: Endurance Enhancer

In addition to increasing your body’s ability to produce physical energy to fuel exercise performance, amino acids can help improve mental energy during a long workout.

Your mental energy depends on the balance between the inhibitory neurotransmitter serotonin (which brings on feelings of calm) and the excitatory neurotransmitter dopamine (which stimulates feelings of excitement). These neurotransmitters are made inside the brain from amino acids circulating in your bloodstream. The amino acid tryptophan serves as a precursor to serotonin production and tyrosine fulfills the same role for dopamine.

During long, grueling workouts, the balance between tryptophan uptake and tyrosine uptake can be disrupted. The brain begins to let in more tryptophan, and as production of serotonin outstrips production of dopamine, you end up feeling mental fatigue. You have plenty of physical energy to keep going, but not the cognitive drive you need.

Taking an amino acid supplement with a balance of essential amino acids can counter the increased uptake of tryptophan by the brain, helping you work out for longer by reducing serotonin production and thus delaying the mental perception of fatigue.

It is important to use an appropriately balanced amino acid mixture that also increases dopamine production, as it is the balance between serotonin and dopamine that determines your mental energy level.

As I briefly mentioned earlier when introducing the concept of branched-chain amino acids, taking an imbalanced mixture of amino acids will not yield the results you hope for. While taking a BCAA supplement can reduce the uptake of tryptophan by the brain, it will also reduce the amount of tyrosine taken up by the brain.

In order to boost mental energy so you can sustain focus during a workout, an amino acid supplement must decrease the ratio of serotonin to dopamine in the brain. Decreasing the amount of serotonin will have minimal effect on brain focus and energy if the amount of dopamine is also reduced. It is, therefore, important that you use a balanced amino acid supplement that not only decreases brain tryptophan uptake, but also increases the dopamine precursor tyrosine.

Amino Acid Benefit #4: Mood Stabilizer

As we just discussed, too much serotonin can cause fatigue during workouts. Too little serotonin, however, has been linked to depression, anxiety, insomnia, and overall moodiness. While tryptophan, and subsequently serotonin production, is ideally down-regulated during exercise, it can have a palliative effect when it is increased in individuals battling mood disorders.

Low tryptophan can be especially problematic when you are dieting. Dieting generally calls for eating fewer calories, which typically entails eating less protein, even if you’re on a so-called high protein diet. So, it is especially important to consume sufficient tryptophan if you’re on a diet.

There are two other standout amino acids for promoting balanced moods. The first, which I introduced in the preceding section, is tyrosine. This amino acid functions as a precursor not only for dopamine, but also for the equally influential brain chemicals epinephrine and norepinephrine. Increasing your intake of tyrosine has been shown to significantly amplify energy, strengthen motivation, elevate sexual function, and heighten concentration, thereby benefiting mood. The best route to increasing tyrosine levels, however, is not to up your intake of tyrosine itself but rather to focus on the essential amino acid phenylalanine, which the body then converts into tyrosine.

The third amino acid that’s particularly important when it comes to promoting balanced moods is glutamate. This nonessential amino acid can act as a neurotransmitter itself, but is probably more relevant as a mood enhancer due to its role as the precursor of gamma-aminobutyric acid, better known as GABA. As the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, GABA helps us feel calm and relaxed and prevents overstimulation of nerve cells. Glutamate is produced from glutamine, so both glutamine and glutamate have similar effects on GABA production.

It’s also worth noting that theanine, a non-dietary amino acid, mimics some of the properties of glutamate and GABA. Green tea is one of the few natural source of theanine, and probably responsible for green tea’s reputation as a mood enhancer.

Amino Acids Benefit #5: Immune Strengthener

Nutritional deficiencies, stress, and environmental toxins can take a toll on our immune systems. Amino acid support can help keep our immune systems strong.

People with compromised immune systems tend to have low levels of the amino acid cysteine, which is a precursor of the master antioxidant glutathione. To efficiently and effectively increase your stores of this vital amino acid, select a balanced essential amino acid supplement that contains cysteine in the form of N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine (NAC).

Research consistently demonstrates that an increased intake of cysteine can fortify the immune system. According to one study published in The European Respiratory Journal, supplementing with cysteine significantly decreased flu symptoms in elderly patients.

Since cysteine is produced from the essential amino acid methionine, it’s also possible to use methionine supplementation to achieve similar effects while promoting the production of proteins involved in the immune response.

Lysine is another amino acid noted for its antiviral and immune-boosting properties. It is traditionally recommended as a preventative nutraceutical for flare-ups of the herpes virus and shingles.

If only one piece of information from this article stays with you, I hope that it is this: in order to benefit from the properties of any individual amino acid, it is vital that you supply your body with an appropriate quantity of all the essential amino acids. That’s why research consistently shows that the most reliable way to access the health benefits of amino acids is by taking a carefully formulated essential amino acid supplement.

What Do Amino Acids Do? Their Role in the Human Body

The main role of amino acids in the human body is as components of body proteins, but amino acids serve many additional functions. Certain amino acids serve as neurotransmitters. Others play a direct part in the regulation of blood flow and blood pressure. Amino acids also support immune function and detoxification!

We’ve all heard of amino acids, and most of us have probably even heard the term “essential amino acids” before. But how many of us have ever stopped to ask ourselves, what do amino acids do?

The term “amino acids” refers to a class of simple organic compounds whose members contain at least one amino group (–NH2) and one carboxyl group (–COOH). The word “amino” is a direct reference to the nitrogen (N) atom contained in the molecule. As such, the presence of nitrogen can be considered the defining characteristic of amino acids.

You may recall learning about the building blocks of protein in your high school biology class. But that’s actually a very accurate description of the role amino acids play in the body. Without them, protein would not be created and we would not be here discussing this topic at all.

But how exactly is this feat of protein synthesis accomplished?

Protein Synthesis (and Breakdown)

Your body uses amino acids in a number of different ways, but amino acids are most closely associated with the process of protein synthesis, whereby our cells generate new proteins.

There are actually more than 300 common amino acids, but only 20 of these are incorporated into body proteins. And of these 20 different amino acids, 9 are considered essential because they are not synthesized in the body and must be obtained through dietary sources.

Proteins are actually made up of long chains of amino acids. And even though 20 amino acids may not seem like very many, the body can actually put these 20 amino acids together in seemingly endless combinations, creating literally thousands of different proteins.

In fact, amino acids are so important that essential amino acids (EAAs) are the only dietary macronutrients (nutrients required in large amounts) that must be consumed for survival.

Let that bit of information just sink in for a moment.

Believe it or not, after infancy, we can survive without any carbohydrates at all for the rest of our lives, and we can last 6 months or more without any fats. But our bodies don’t have the ability to store proteins. And since our cells need proteins to function, without amino acids, we wouldn’t survive for long.

Because the body needs proteins to function, these same proteins will eventually be broken down as they’re used by the cells. Amino acids thus play a further role in maintaining the balance between this breakdown and synthesis of new proteins.

Here’s how this process works.

In the process of protein breakdown, amino acids are released. These amino acids can then become precursors for the synthesis of new proteins. However, some of the amino acids released as byproducts of protein breakdown will be irreversibly oxidized (chemically combined with oxygen), making them unavailable for reincorporation into new proteins.

Nonessential amino acids (NEAAs) help produce new proteins so that the rates of protein breakdown and synthesis remain balanced. These particular amino acids are produced by the body, so we don’t need to obtain them through dietary sources.

Most dietary proteins are also composed of at least 50% to 60% NEAAs, so in most circumstances, we consume more than enough NEAAs through the food we eat.

By contrast, EAAs can only be obtained from the diet. So, if our diets are lacking in plenty of healthy whole foods, unless we’re supplementing with a high-quality amino acid program for nutritive support, we probably won’t be getting enough EAAs.

And this will result in a progressive loss of protein because the balance between protein synthesis and protein breakdown will be lost, with the rate of breakdown outpacing the rate of synthesis.

To avoid this imbalance and ensure our bodies have access to a steady supply of EAAs, we need to be sure we’re including plenty of protein sources in our diets. Some great sources of EAAs include:

Meat Quinoa Lentils
Poultry Pumpkin seeds Beans
Eggs Whole grains Nuts
Dairy products Tofu Seeds

Amino Acids and Muscles

If we’re not giving our bodies the fuel they crave, one of the first areas we may notice the imbalance is in our muscles.

In other words, without the amino acids the body needs for muscle tissue growth, maintenance, and repair, muscle mass will be lost and exercise performance—and even basic functioning—will suffer.

Let’s break this down and see why amino acids are so important for muscle health.

Muscle Growth and Repair

As we stated earlier, if the balance between protein synthesis and breakdown is tilted in favor of protein breakdown, the amount of protein in the body will decrease.

For muscles, less protein being synthesized means less muscle growth and more muscle breakdown.

Muscles are also the main reservoir of amino acids in the body. If the daily intake of amino acids can’t keep up with the demands of protein synthesis, your muscles will actually release some of their amino acids for use by other parts of the body.

Over time, this emphasis on protein turnover instead of protein synthesis can have implications for everything from exercise performance to maintenance of activities of daily living.

To correct this imbalance and, indeed, shift the focus heavily toward muscle protein synthesis, the world of bodybuilders and endurance athletes has long been interested in the benefits of branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs.

The BCAAs—leucine, isoleucine, and valine—are touted by fitness junkies for their ability to preserve muscle stores of glycogen (the primary fuel used by muscles during exercise), minimize protein breakdown during exercise, and reduce post-workout muscle soreness and muscle recovery.

On the face of it, that does sound great.

However, as we’ve learned, muscle protein synthesis involves all 20 amino acids working together—linking together—in specific ways to build the protein our bodies need.

If any single EAA is in short supply, protein synthesis will stop as soon as we’ve exhausted its supply. The amino acid in shortest supply during protein synthesis is therefore known as the limiting amino acid.

Making a complete protein requires sufficient quantities of each of the 20 amino acids. Therefore, there is no single best amino acid or group of amino acids for both muscle growth and muscle repair, as the body needs all of them to produce protein.

However, balanced formulations of essential amino acid supplements that emphasize specific amino acids to target specific areas can be helpful.

Amino Acids for Complete Health and Wellness

With all this focus on protein synthesis, we may have given you the impression that that’s all amino acids do. But that would be far from the truth.

In fact, amino acids are involved in an array of processes that go far beyond their role as building blocks of proteins.

For example, certain amino acids serve as neurotransmitters or precursors for the production of other neurotransmitters, and thus help balance our moods and minds.

Amino acids also play a direct role in the regulation of blood flow and blood pressure and the production of nitric oxide—a potent vasodilator affecting everything from cardiovascular to brain health.

In addition, amino acids support immune function, serve as antioxidants, and promote detoxification of harmful substances in the liver.

As you can see, there are many benefits of amino acids, from building muscle to regulating blood flow to detoxifying the body. So, if somebody ever asks you, what do amino acids do? don’t be shy. You now have an answer for them.