Amino Acids: What Are They and Why You Need Them

Protein also promotes healthy cartilage, muscles, bone, and skin.

When it comes to good health, studies show that the body needs 20 different amino acids to function optimally. The human body is capable of producing all but nine of these amino acids, also known as essential amino acids, and the remainder must come from either whole foods or supplements. Some of the foods that are rich in amino acids include low-fat dairy, meat, eggs, and quinoa. All of these amino acids are used collectively by the body to produce proteins that build and repair tissues. Protein also promotes healthy cartilage, muscles, bone, and skin. To further put this into context, when an individual consumes protein-rich foods, the digestive system immediately begins the process of converting protein into amino acids that the body can then use to regulate cell and organ activity as well as other bodily functions. In this article, we will take a closer look at the role of amino acids when it comes to good health and when to take BCAA supplements.

WHAT IS AN AMINO ACID DEFICIENCY?

Because amino acids play such a critical role in the body, any major deficiency can adversely affect your health. Some of the more common signs of an amino acid deficiency include a weakened immune system and digestive problems. These deficiencies can also cause fertility problems in both men and women. Lastly, it is not uncommon for an amino acid deficiency to trigger depression and also contribute to a lack of focus. Because amino acids are compounds that the body needs to function, deficiency symptoms can manifest themselves in a number of different ways. The best way to confirm you have an amino acid deficiency is to schedule an appointment with your physician who can perform a plasma or urine test to evaluate your amino acid levels. Assuming you are deficient, you may want to consider making certain dietary changes and taking supplements like BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids), for example, to help boost your amino acid levels.

WHAT IS THE ROLE OF EACH AMINO ACID IN THE BODY?

Having detailed the collective role that amino acids play in contributing to good health, let's take a moment to now focus on the ones that we need the most:

Lysine – This amino acid can help improve exoskeletal health by promoting bone health and maintaining healthy muscle. According to a study published by Oxford Academic, it is believed that a deficiency in lysine can lead to stress and anxiety.

Histidine - Commonly found in high protein foods, histidine is responsible for creating blood cells and aiding in tissue repair. Beyond that, it is also responsible for creating the myelin sheath that protects the body's nerve cells. A deficiency in this amino acid can impact the immune system, digestive health, and may lead to fertility problems.

Threonine – This amino acid contributes to healthy teeth by strengthening tooth enamel; it also improves skin health by supporting collagen and elastin production. Furthermore, threonine helps in breaking down fat, improving digestive health, and soothing feelings of anxiety and depression. Studies show that a deficiency in this amino acid can make you more susceptible to disease.

Methionine – When combined with cysteine, a nonessential amino acid, methionine contributes to healthy hair and skin. It also supports strong, healthy nails and facilitates the removal of mercury and other heavy metals from the body.

Valine - This amino acid can help improve your mental health and overall focus and also produces a calming effect. Also, it plays a key role in boosting energy levels, facilitating muscle growth, and aiding in tissue repair.

Isoleucine – This amino acid can help regulate blood glucose levels, improve wound healing, and boost the immune system. Also, isoleucine improves hormone production and can boost energy levels. Isoleucine deficiencies are common amongst older individuals and are generally characterized by tremors and shaking muscles.

Leucine – Similar to isoleucine, this amino acid can help regulate blood glucose levels and can help with wound healing and also growth hormone production. Also, leucine plays a critical role in bone and muscle repair. A deficiency in this amino acid is normally delineated by hair loss and chronic fatigue.

Phenylalanine - This amino acid works to convert other amino acids into tyrosine, which is then used to create proteins that improve brain function and brain health.

Although essential amino acids are found in a variety of foods, it is still possible to be deficient in some of them, especially if you lead a physically active lifestyle. Supplementing with branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) is a great way to keep your amino acid levels in a normal and healthy range. Beyond that, these supplements can increase physical performance and help build muscle.

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