Amino acids are simple organic compounds that contain a carboxyl (-COOH) and an amino (-NH2) group and link together to form protein. Protein is needed for pretty much every biological process in our bodies. We absolutely cannot live without it. Because amino acids make up protein, they’ve earned the prestigious title “the building blocks of life.”
Amino Acids Benefits
Amino acids are involved in virtually every aspect of life—from building muscle and life-supporting tissues…to making the chemicals necessary for our brain and vital organs to properly function. Amino acids are also the primary ingredients of most of the biochemical components in our blood and cells. Beyond serving as the building blocks for all-important proteins, amino acids are in and of themselves important signalling factors and intermediaries in many metabolic pathways. Let’s take a look at how amino acids work in conjunction with proteins in our bodies.
Functions of Protein
Protein is the material that gives structure and strength to the muscles, tendons, tissues, and organs in our bodies. Protein activates most of the chemical reactions that occur in our cells. Protein helps carry crucial substances into and out of cells. Some proteins act as antibodies that help protect us against disease and viruses. Others are hormones that influence mood, energy levels, and libido. Proteins act as control switches for gene expression, determining which genes get turned on and off. And protein is needed to help heal wounds, repair tissue, and remove waste products produced during metabolism.
Amino acids are the foundation of it all. One molecule of protein can be made up of 100 to 1,000 amino acids linked together in what’s called a peptide linkage. The specific sequence of amino acids determines the type of protein produced.
What Happens to the Protein You Eat?
Your body cannot absorb protein in its ingested form. Instead, it sends enzymes in your stomach and small intestine to break down the protein you’ve eaten into individual amino acids. These amino acids are able to pass through the intestinal walls and travel through the bloodstream to the liver, where they are processed and transported back to the blood, lymph, and cells. Here, the individual amino acids can be reordered and built into proteins your body can use as needed.
Protein is also made as a result of chemical reactions that occur in your body. When cells metabolize they produce by-products. These by-products can be broken down into amino acids that can then be used to synthesize protein.
Types of Amino Acids
There are three groups of amino acids:
Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body, and they are the only macronutrients (i.e., protein, carbohydrates, and fat) that are absolutely required in our diet. We must obtain essential amino acids from food sources or supplements since we do not have the ability to make them.
Conditionally essential amino acids are amino acids that are not normally required in the diet, but that cannot be produced in sufficient quantities in some circumstances. For example, arginine, tyrosine, and glutamine can be conditionally essential in certain physiological circumstances, such as serious illness.
Nonessential amino acids can be made by the body. Most dietary proteins are composed of at least 50-60% nonessential amino acids, so in most circumstances, we consume more than adequate amounts of the nonessential aminos.
Regardless of whether an amino acid is an essential or a nonessential, each amino acid is important as a precursor for protein synthesis, meaning the amino acid helps stimulate the production of new proteins.
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