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To find out about a particular amino acid:

Just click on the name to go to the relevant paragraph.
You can also read about amino acids below.


Amino Acids - What do they actually do?

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and unlike the two other basic nutrients – sugar and fatty acids, amino acids contain nitrogen – about 16%.

Because of the vital functions of these nutrients, great care should be taken by any person concerned about their health, to ensure that sufficient amounts are supplied by the body in either dietary form, or if needed by supplementation.

Protein is needed by every living organisms, and next to water, makes up the largest portion of our body weight since it is contained in muscles, organs, hair, etc.

The protein used in making up the body is not directly derived from the diet, but the dietary protein is broken down into amino acids, and the body then re-constitute these amino acids into the specific proteins needed.

Enzymes and hormones regulating body functions are also proteins. And amino acids are used in most body processes from regulating the way the body works to how the brain function - it also activates and utilize vitamins and other nutrients.

Proteins are chains of amino acids linked together, bound together with peptide bonds and there are about 28 amino acids commonly referred to in human health.

The liver manufacture about 80% of these amino acids, but the remaining 20% of such amino acids must be supplied directly by the diet, and these amino acids are referred to as the essential amino acids.

These essential amino acids are: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.

The 80% or so others that can be manufactured by the liver includes: alanine, arginine, asparagine, aspartic acid, citrulline, cysteine, cystine, gamma-aminobutyric acid, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, ornithine, proline, serine, taurine and tyrosine.

The functioning of amino acids are interrelated, and a balanced and steady supply of these nutrients are needed to maintain proper body functioning.

A dietary shortage of amino acids can impact negatively on your health - just as other stressors, such as trauma, dug use, age, infections etc.

When the body synthesizes protein, ammonia is formed in the liver as a waste product, and too large amounts of protein in the diet can result in too much ammonia being formed, and in so doing placing extra stress on the liver and kidneys to flush it out the body.

Amino acid supplements come in various forms but can essentially be divided in three types of products – either derived from animal protein, yeast or vegetable protein.

Most amino acids can be produced in two forms, except for glycine, that is either a D or L form.

These letters stands for the way in which the amino acid spiral is wound up - D is for the right wound type and L for the mirror left winding amino acid.

Human amino acid is the L type and for this reason many people prefer to use supplements containing the L type amino acid.

Histidine is also a precursor of histamine, a compound released by immune system cells during an allergic reaction.

It is needed for growth and for the repair of tissue, as well as the maintenance of the myelin sheaths that act as protector for nerve cells.

It is further required for the manufacture of both red and white blood cells, and helps to protect the body from damage caused by radiation and in removing heavy metals from the body.

In the stomach, histidine is also helpful in producing gastric juices, and people with a shortage of gastric juices or suffering from indigestion, may also benefit from this nutrient.

Deficiency indications
None known, but it is reported that an increase in the intake of this nutrient helps with the lengthening of orgasms and also more intense sexual enjoyment.

It is extremely useful in enhancing the immune system, and it increases the size and activity of the thymus gland, which is responsible for manufacturing T lymphocytes – the much talked about T-cells, which assists the immune system. For this reason it might be an important nutrient for people suffering from AIDS and other malignant diseases which suppress the immune system.

In the pancreas it is used to release insulin and in the pituitary gland it is a component of human growth hormone, and is used in sexual stimulants, as people report longer and more intense orgasms when their intake of arginine is increased.

It is also important in liver health and assists in neutralizing ammonia in the liver, while it is also involved in the skin and connective tissue – making it important in healing and repair of tissue as well as the formation of collagen as well as building of new bone and tendons.

Arginine is found in seminal fluid and L-arginine is used in the treatment of male sexual health and has been used in the treatment of sterility.

It is required in muscle metabolism – maintaining the nitrogen balance, and helping with weight control since it facilitates the increase of muscle mass, while reducing body fat.

Deficiency indications
Rare – but signs may include impaired insulin production as well as possible hair loss.

It is of paramount importance in the metabolism during construction of other amino acids and biochemicals in the citric acid cycle. Among the biochemicals that are synthesized from aspartic acid are asparagine, arginine, lysine, methionine, threonine, isoleucine, and several nucleotides.

It is needed for stamina, brain and neural health and assists the liver by removing excess ammonia and other toxins from the bloodstream. It is also very important in the functioning of RNA, DNA, as well as the production of immunoglobulin and antibody synthesis.

Deficiency indications
Symptoms may include fatigue and depression.

It is required to help maintain the proper protein balance in the body, as well as assist in the formation of collagen and elastin.

It is further involved in liver functioning (including fighting fatty liver), lipotropic functions when combined with aspartic acid and methionine as well as assisting the immune system by helping the production of antibodies and promotes thymus growth and activity.

Other nutrients are also better absorbed when threonine is present, and it has also been used as part treatment of mental health.

Deficiency indications
It is a precursor of isoleucine and imbalance may result if the synthesis rate from asparate is incorrect.
In humans, deficiency may results in irritability and a generally difficult personality.

It is required for growth and bone development in children, assists in calcium absorption and maintaining the correct nitrogen balance in the body and maintaining lean body mass. Furthermore it is needed to produce antibodies, hormones, enzymes, collagen formation as well as repair of tissue.

Since it helps with the building of muscle protein, it is useful for patients recovering from injuries and recovery after operations, and there might be use in lysine to help maintain healthy blood vessels. It also seems to assist in fighting herpes and cold sores.

Deficiency indications
Although a deficiency of lysine is rare, since it is found in so many protein foods, the symptoms may include anemia, enzyme disorders, lack of energy, hair loss, bloodshot eyes, weight loss and retarded growth as well as reproductive problems, poor appetite and poor concentration.

It is an important excitatory neurotransmitter and glutamic acid is also important in the metabolism of sugars and fats.

It helps with the transportation of potassium across the blood-brain barrier, although itself does not pass this barrier that easily. It also shows promise in the future treatment of neurological conditions, ulcers, hypoglycemic come, muscular dystrophy, epilepsy, Parkinson's, and mental retardation.

Glutamic acid can be used as fuel in the brain, and can attach itself to nitrogen atoms in the process of forming glutamine, and this action also detoxify the body of ammonia. This action is the only way in which the brain can be detoxified from ammonia.

The fluid produced by the prostate gland also contains amounts of glutamic acid, and may play a role in the normal function of the prostate.

It is required for the metabolism of glucose and tryptophan and beta-alanine is a constituent of vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) as well as coenzyme A. It has also demonstrated a cholesterol-reducing effect in rats.
People suffering from Epstein Barr (also sometimes referred to as glandular fever) as well as chronic fatigue syndrome, has been linked to excessively high levels of alanine while having low levels of tyrosine and phenylalanine.

Deficiency indications
None known

Proline is one of the cyclic aliphatic amino acids that is a major component of the protein collagen, the connective tissue structure that binds and supports all other tissues.

Proline is synthesized from glutamic acid prior to its incorporation into pro-collagen during messenger RNA translation. After the pro-collagen protein is synthesized, it is converted by posttranslational modification into hydroxyproline.

On a molar basis proline is incorporated into protein at a rate of 4.2 percent with respect to other amino acids.

It is required to build protein in the body and synthesis of nucleic acids, the construction of RNA as well as DNA, bile acids and other amino acids in the body. It is further found to be useful in aiding the absorption of calcium in the body.

It helps in retarding degeneration of muscles since it helps to supply extra creatine in the body.

It is also found in fairly large amounts in the prostate fluid and may for this reason be important in prostate health.

The glycine amino acid is also used by the nervous system and its function as an inhibitory neurotransmitter makes it important to help prevent epileptic seizures and is also used in the treatment of manic depression and hyperactivity.

Deficiency indications
Few people are glycine deficient, in part because the body makes its own supply of the non-essential amino acids, and because it is abundant in food sources.

Your skin, as well as for detoxification of your body, requires cysteine. It is found in beta-keratin, the main protein in nails, skin as well as hair. It not only is important in collagen production but also assists in skin elasticity and texture.

Cysteine is also required in the manufacture of the amino acid taurine and is a component of the antioxidant gluthione. It is useful to detoxify the body from harmful toxins and help protect the brain and liver from damage from alcohol, drugs etc.

It has also be found that it may help in strengthening the protective lining of the stomach as well as intestines, which may help prevent damage caused by aspirin and similar drugs.

Cysteine is also critical to the metabolism of a number of essential biochemicals including coenzyme A, heparin, biotin, lipoid acid, and glutathione.

Deficiency indications
No direct deficiencies have been reported as such.

It is used in elevating the mood since it is so closely involved with the nervous system, as well as help with memory and learning and has been used as appetite suppressant.

People suffering from Parkinson's disease It is DLPA (or the D- or L-form alone) is used to treat depression and the D form may also be helpful in the treatment of Parkinson's disease and chronic pain in both osteo-arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis with mixed results Increases blood levels of norepinephrine, epinephrine and dopamine - all three required for neurotransmission.

Deficiency indications
Dietary deficiency is rare but symptoms may include lethargy, edema, weakness, skin lesions as well as liver damage and slow growth. A deficiency in diet would only occur with very an extremely low protein intake.

It assists in the breakdown of fats and thereby prevents the buildup of fat in the arteries, as well as assisting with the digestive system and removing heavy metals from the body since it can be converted to cysteine, which is a precursor to gluthione, which is of prime importance in detoxifying the liver.

The amino acid methionine is also a great antioxidant as the sulfur it supplies inactivates free radicals. It is also used to treat depression, arthritis pain as well as chronic liver disease - although these claims are still under investigation. Some studies have also indicated that methionine might improve memory recall.

It is also one of the three amino acids needed by the body to manufacture creatine monohydrate, a compound essential for energy production and muscle building.

Deficiency indications
Severe deficiency may manifest in dementia, while lesser deficiencies may be known by symptoms like fatty liver, slow growth, weakness, edema and skin lesions.

Leucine helps with the regulation of blood-sugar levels, the growth and repair of muscle tissue (such as bones, skin and muscles), growth hormone production, wound healing as well as energy regulation. It can assists to prevent the breakdown of muscle proteins that sometimes happen after trauma or severe stress. It may also be beneficial for individuals with phenylketonuria-a condition in which the body cannot metabolize the amino acid phenylalanine

Deficiency indications
Deficiency of this nutrient is rare, since all protein foods contains it, but vegans and vegetarians without adequate protein sources may suffer from a deficiency. Hypoglycemia symptoms may appear if the diet is deficient and may include dizziness, fatigue, headaches, irritability etc.

Isoleucine, together with the other two branched-chain-amino-acids promote muscle recovery after physical exercise and on its own it is needed for the formation of hemoglobin as well as assisting with regulation of blood sugar levels as well as energy levels. It is also involved in blood-clot formation.

Deficiency indications
Deficiency of isoleucine is only found in people deficient in dietary protein but symptoms may include headaches, dizziness, fatigue, depression, confusion as well as irritability. Symptoms of deficiency may mimic the symptoms of hypoglycemia. This nutrient has also been found to be deficient in people with mental and physical disorders, but more research is required on this.

It has a stimulating effect and is needed for muscle metabolism, repair and growth of tissue and maintaining the nitrogen balance in the body.

Since it is a branched-chain amino acid, it can be used as an energy source in the muscles, and in doing so preserves the use of glucose.

Many amino acids become deficient with drug addiction, and here it also plays an important role and there are indications that it may also be beneficial in treating or reversing hepatic encephalopathy, or alcohol related brain damage, as well as degenerative neurological conditions.

Ornithine is important since it induce the release of growth hormone in the body, which in turn helps with fat metabolism. It is further required for a properly functioning immune system and liver and assists in ammonia detoxification and liver rejuvenation.

It is also of use in healing and repairing skin and tissue and is found in both these body parts. There are some unsupported claims that ornithine promotes muscle building, but this has not been proven.

Deficiency indications
Since the body can produces ornithine, a deficiency of this non-essential amino acid is rare.

This amino acid is required for the production of niacin (vitamin b3). It is used by the human body to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is important for normal nerve and brain function. Serotonin is important in sleep, stabilizing emotional moods, pain control, inflammation, intestinal peristalsis, etc.

It is further important in controlling hyperactivity in children, assists in alleviating stress, helps with weight loss and reducing appetite. It has also been found that people suffering from migraine headaches have abnormal levels of tryptophan, and in this supplementation may be helpful.

A shortage of this amino acid, combined with a shortage of magnesium may be a contributing factor to heart artery spasms.

Assists the immune system by introducing additional interferon into the body
Diminishes the viral load of many viruses (Epstein-Barr, Herpes, Cytomegalovirus)

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