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20 Amino Acids & Amino Acid Supplements

Non-Essential and Essential Amino Acids

Amino acid is the basic chemical subunit of proteins. Amino acids that are joined together by peptide bonds (strong chemical links) into a "chain" make peptides or proteins. A huge number of proteins can be made by varying the sequence and number of amino acids included in each chain.

Amino acids are divided into two categories: essential and nonessential amino acids. There are nine essential amino acids that we must get from food. The remaining nonessential amino acids are also important, but if they are not supplied by the food we eat, they can be manufactured by our body. All of the amino acids are vital to good health. In fact, a lack of just one amino acid will, over time, cause serious health problems.

Amino Acid Protein & Amino Acid Food

Animal proteins (except for gelatin) contain all nine of the essential amino acids, as well as some nonessential ones. Because of this, meat, poultry, eggs, and milk are commonly referred to as containing "complete" proteins. Proteins from plant sources, such as vegetables and grains, are called "incomplete" proteins because they are deficient in one or more of the essential amino acids. The exception to this is the soybean, which is nearly equal to animal protein in amino acid content.

Below is a list of the 20 Essential and Non Essential amino acids:

Essential amino acids:

  • isoleucine
  • leucine
  • lysine
  • methionine
  • phenylalanine
  • threonine
  • tryptophan
  • valine

Nonessential amino acids:

  • alanine
  • arginine
  • asparagine
  • aspartic acid
  • cysteine
  • glutamine
  • glutamic acid
  • glycine
  • histidine
  • proline
  • serine
  • tyrosine

Function of Amino Acids

The body requires about 50,000 proteins to make the cells, tissues, organs, enzymes, hormones, and other substances necessary for life. These proteins are made up of amino acids, which can combine in an almost infinite number of ways. Some proteins, such as oligopeptides (oligo means "few"), are made up of short amino acid chains, which are composed of just two or three amino acids. Most of the neurotransmitters (chemical substances that send messages to and from the brain) are peptides. Other proteins are made up of hundreds of amino acids.

How does the body know which amino acids to link together? Our genetic material (DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid) has all the "instructions" the body needs. DNA, which is located in each body cell, tells the cells which amino acids to hook together to make whatever protein is needed, when it's needed, and in the amounts necessary. Amazingly, after a protein has done its job within the body, it's broken down by other proteins - recycled so that the amino acids can be used again in other combinations. It's a very complicated, efficient process and an essential one, not only for humans, but for all species.

Amino Acid Supplements

In general, most Americans get more protein than they need, and therefore get adequate amounts of amino acids. If you're healthy and eating a varied diet, you probably don't need amino acid supplements. However, amino acids may be desirable for therapeutic benefits those beyond general good health. For example, research suggests that various amino acids (arginine, carnitine, and taurine) are useful in the treatment of heart disease, while glutamine is beneficial for problems of the digestive tract.

There is a danger of the body's amino acids becoming out of balance if single amino acid supplements are routinely taken. For those using amino acids longer than a month, a supplement that provides a variety of amino acids (sometimes called a "amino acid complex") is recommended to help keep amino acid intake balanced. In addition, when amino acids are taken for therapeutic benefits, it's wise to do so under a doctor's supervision, especially if you'll be taking them longer than a few months. Never exceed the recommended dose of amino acids, as high doses may be toxic and cause nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Finally, pregnant women or anyone with liver or kidney disease should talk to their doctor before taking any amino acid supplements.

L or D Amino Acids?

Amino acid names on supplement labels are frequently preceded by the letters "L" or "D." This refers to the chemical form of the amino acid. Those with the "L" in their name are the most similar to amino acids in the body, and are therefore preferable over the "D" forms.

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