Amino Acids 101: What You Need to Know
By William Lovett, M.D.
Amino acids are one of the best topics to research if you are looking into improving your overall health. If you are lacking these essential acids – whether your body is too stressed to produce enough or you have a specific diet that limits amino acid intake – you will notice your body responding more poorly to stress, viruses, burns, or even cancer.
To increase the amount in your body, it’s important to understand:
- What they are
- How they are divided into essential and nonessential categories
- Which 9 amino acids you should focus on supplementing into your diet
What are amino acids?
Amino acids are the basic building blocks of our genetic code and make up our various proteins, enzymes, antibodies, and neurotransmitters. Without them, we would not be able to live outside of the womb because we wouldn’t have protein synthesis. Protein synthesis takes the amino acid building blocks and links them in a specific way to do a specific task in our body. It also makes and helps repair our own genetic code.
What are the different types of amino acids?
The 20 amino acids that are necessary for life are divided into two main categories (essential and nonessential), with further subdivision under them:
Essential amino acids are those we have to get through a food source, as our body does not make them. There are 9 essential amino acids that we need to incorporate into our diet. People who are on certain diets (ex. vegan) will have to ensure they add essential amino acids supplements to their diet, as their food source will not have enough to supplement them completely.
Non-essential amino acids are the 11 amino acids our body makes internally. Additionally, there are specific non-essential acids called “conditional amino acids”, which have to be supplemented when our bodies are under stress. This is important because when we are stressed the production of these amino acids is cut and there is not enough to support our stressed body. So, in other words, there are certain conditions where non-essential amino acids should be treated like essential acids, because we need to supplement them under those stressful situations.
What are the 9 essential amino acids we need to supplement?
Many people don’t get enough of the essential acids. It can be due to stress or their unique dietary needs, but the outcome is the same. You will feel sick more often and will take longer to heal from viruses, burns, and other injuries without enough essential amino acids.
To combat this, you should find supplements for these 9 essential acids and add them into your diet:
- Phenylalanine is important in the production of neurotransmitters and other acids
- Methionine plays a major role in metabolism and oxidation (detoxifies your body), as well as absorbing minerals like selenium and zinc
- Tryptophan converts into the neurotransmitter serotonin and helps with appetite, mood, and sleep
- Threonine plays a role in fat metabolism and immune function, as well as acts as the principal protein in collagen for healthy skin
- Valine helps with muscle growth and energy production
- Leucine plays a critical role in the production of growth hormone, blood sugar levels, protein synthesis, and also muscle repair
- Isoleucine is important in energy production, immune function, and muscle metabolism
- Lysine is important in energy production, collagen formation, immune function, and hormone and enzyme production
- Histidine affects sexual function and sleep, and is important in the production and integrity of your nerves
Have specific questions?
Many of our patients come to us looking for better health. They want to feel healthier, have higher energy, and better moods. Amino acids are just one piece to the health puzzle, which is why we advocate a full hormone screening. Stay tuned to our blog for part 2 for more information on the non-essential amino acids.
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