Amino acids play central roles both as building blocks of proteins and as intermediates in metabolism. – The University of Arizona, Department of Biology
The vital importance of amino acids cannot be overemphasized. Quite simply, amino acids are the basis – the building blocks – of all life processes. More specifically, amino acids act as catalysts; allowing the development of proteins within billions of individual cells.
The human body requires 20 types of amino acids to adequately produce protein. Amino acids are categorized as either essential or non-essential. Non-essential amino acids are those that the body can naturally synthesize, requiring only sufficient amounts of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen. Essential amino acids are acquired through food, as the body either cannot produce them or produces them at insufficient levels.
As a reference, we’ll provide a list of both types of amino acids.
Essential amino acids are: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
Non-essential amino acids are made up of the following: alanine, arginine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine, and tyrosine.
A vast amount of research has been conducted that confirms the indispensable health properties of amino acids. Likewise, research has been conducted explaining the dangers of low amino acid levels. In terms of treatment, amino acids have demonstrated that ability to improve a variety of health conditions.
This article focuses on the health benefits of amino acids. Further, we’ll go over some good dietary sources of amino acids.
Here are seven reasons you need more amino acids in your diet:
1. Improves brain function
Amino acids – and thereby proteins – are critical to healthy brain function. Arginine, histidine, tyrosine, and tryptophan are synthesized by the brain to (among other things) balance various neurotransmitters (i.e. dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine). Maintaining healthy balances of these chemicals helps promote normalized cognitive abilities, particularly during periods of environmental and psychological distress.
2. Detoxifies the body
To eliminate harmful toxins, our body relies on a healthy and functioning liver. Amines such as arginine, ornithine, and glutamine helps to stimulate detoxification actions of the liver – eradicating toxins that threaten our overall health. These amines also help to promote the expedited healing of wounds.
(Important side note: overconsumption of amines can result in excessive production of liver enzymes – an inadvertency that can result in liver damage. When undergoing any detox regimen, it is recommended to seek the advice of a licensed medical professional.)
3. Enhances mood
Often times, mood swings result from too much stress and not enough recovery time. This happens most often when we perform demanding work, and process streams of information, without allocating proper time for rest or sleep.
While this may sound oversimplified (and obvious!), it turns out that deficient amino acid levels may exacerbate such mood swing episodes.
Conversely, carnitine and other amines may help provide some balance to a brain that is often out of sync – a common byproduct of internal and external stressors. For example, GABA – an amino acid and ultra-popular supplement – inhibits erratic neurotransmitter activity in the brain. The result? Feelings of sedation and well-being.
4. Improves sleep quality
Certain amino acids help to promote sleep by counteracting the cellular toxin ammonia. Ammonia stunts cellular energy production, and is formed by the breakdown of proteins. Sleeplessness can result when this breakdown mechanism adversely impacts certain cognitive functions, disrupting our internal sleep/wake cycle.
The amines arginine, glutamine, and ornithine have properties that can assist the body in eliminating ammonia, which may improve sleep quality.
5. Reduces or eliminates stress
The amino acid glutamine is considered among the most important amino acids. Experiments have demonstrated drastic reductions of glutamine levels during periods of physical and/or mental episodes of tension, strain and stress. Physiologically, ingestion or supplementation of glutamine stabilizes cells of the immune and gastrointestinal systems. This effect strengthens the body’s defense mechanisms, helping to prevent and counteract various symptoms of stress.
6. Promotes muscle growth
Considering that amino acids are foundational components of protein, this benefit comes as no real surprise. In addition to promoting muscle growth, amino acids suppress mechanisms that cause muscle tissue deterioration.
One notable amino acid, glycine, has even been shown to help maintain muscle mass in the later stages of life. When satisfactory levels of amino acids penetrate the muscles, overall endurance, strength, and other performance capabilities often improve. This is the primary reason why athletes (e.g. bodybuilders) prioritize the consumption of amino acids.
7. Slows and thwarts aging
Ah, yes…we can see your eyes getting extra wide now. And it’s very true: regular, adequate ingestion of amino acids can slow the aging process.
The reasons for this are mostly cumulative in nature, and here’s why. As mentioned, amino acids play an important role in preventing or countering the effects of stress; which in turn produces a myriad of benefits: sharper cognition, healthier skin, more defined muscles, better sleep, improved mood, etc. etc.
Additionally, amino acids strengthen the immune and digestive systems. As a result, we’re able to ward off potentially-harmful health conditions – many of which indirectly age us, both in mind and body.
Sources of amino acids
There are plenty of foods that are high in amino acids. Odds are you can find something on this list that satisfies your palette.
Here are a few:
– Plant based sources: tofu, quinoa, soy, and soybeans. Bragg’s Liquid Aminos is also a great product for this.
– Lean meat: ham, pork, and beef.
– Poultry and seafood: chicken, turkey breast, halibut, cod, tilapia, flounder, and perch.
– Eggs and low-fat dairy products.