Home > Amino Acids
by Dave Foreman
What is inside your protein supplement?
In a previous newsletter, I discussed the benefits of protein inside and out. Due to space limitations, I was forced to leave out some critical information about the amino acids that make up the protein(s) that we consume. Each amino acid possesses different health benefits and I feel it is important for you to understand what those specific benefits are. As a quick reminder, I never recommend any one amino acid to be taken by itself. Even though these amino acids may work individually, they will most likely work even better if you take a supplement that includes all of the amino acids. To clarify: If you think that L-Arginine is something you need to take in larger quantities, you should also supplement with either a complete protein (refer to my past newsletter) or a broad-spectrum amino acid supplement that contains all essential and non-essential amino acids.
Essential and non-essential amino acids
The body can manufacture some of the amino acids it needs from carbohydrates, fats and other amino acids. These are called non-essential amino acids, of which there are 12: arginine, alanine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cystine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, histadine, proline, serine and tyrosine. This is a somewhat inaccurate term, since the non-essential amino acids are essential for life. They are non-essential only in the sense they do not have to be obtained from the diet. However, if you have some sort of metabolic challenge or health issue, you may not be able to manufacture some of these non-essential amino acids, which may lead to other health issues. Other amino acids cannot be manufactured in the amounts needed to support good health. These are the essential amino acids, and they must be obtained from one's diet. Without them, protein cannot be made and body tissues cannot be maintained. There are eight essential amino acids: isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.
What do amino acids do anyway?
Besides forming the building blocks of protein, each amino acid serves a unique function in our body. Let's look at each amino acid and its identified job(s) in our body.
ISOLEUCINE (Essential Amino Acid)
Isoleucine stimulates protein synthesis and the growth and maintenance of muscle mass, as well as assisting with the production of energy. It also provides stimulants to the upper brain helping you to be more alert. It can activate glutamate dehydrogenase-an enzyme that is deficient in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig's disease. Natural Food Source: dairy products, red meat and eggs.
LEUCINE (Essential Amino Acid)
Leucine (along with phenylalanine) stimulates the release of insulin in the pancreas. Leucine, along with valine and isoleucine, have demonstrated therapeutic effects on liver damage. Leucine has also been used to treat Phenylketonuria (PKU), a genetic disease.Natural Food Source:dairy products, red meat and eggs.
LYSINE (Essential Amino Acid)
Lysine ensures the adequate absorption of calcium and helps form collagen (which makes up bone cartilage & connective tissues). Additionally, it aids in the production of antibodies, hormones & enzymes. Recent studies have shown that Lysine may be effective against herpes by improving the balance of nutrients that reduce viral growth. A deficiency in Lysine may result in tiredness, inability to concentrate, irritability, bloodshot eyes, retarded growth, hair loss, anemia & reproductive problems. Natural Food Source: brewer's yeast, legumes, dairy, fish and meat.
METHIONINE (Essential Amino Acid)
Methionine is a principal supplier of sulfur which prevents disorders of the hair, skin and nails. It also helps lower cholesterol levels by increasing the liver's production of lecithin. Methionine reduces liver fat and protects the kidneys. It is a natural chelating (binding) agent for heavy metals. Additionally, it regulates the formation of ammonia and creates ammonia-free urine which reduces bladder irritation. Methionine influences hair follicles and promotes hair growth. Natural Food Source: meat, fish, dairy and whole grains.
PHENYLALANINE (Essential Amino Acid)
This amino acid is used by the brain to produce norepinephrine, a chemical that transmits signals between nerve cells and the brain. It improves memory and alertness, and functions as an antidepressant. The amino acids leucine and phenylalanine stimulate the release of insulin in the pancreas. Natural Food Source: meat, fish, dairy and eggs.
THREONINE (Essential Amino Acid)
Threonine is an important constituent of collagen, elastin and enamel protein. It also prevents fat build-up in the liver. In general, Threonine helps the digestive and intestinal tracts function more smoothly, assisting metabolism and assimilation. Natural Food Source: cottage cheese, poultry, fish, meat, lentils and sesame seeds.
TRYPTOPHAN (Essential Amino Acid)
A natural relaxant, this amino acid helps alleviate insomnia by inducing normal sleep. It has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression. Tryptophan also has been used in the treatment of migraine headaches and to reduce the risk of artery & heart spasms. Along with lysine, it has been linked to reducing cholesterol levels. Tryptophan is a precursor of (is used to make) niacin, a B vitamin, and serotonin, a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) in the brain. Natural Food Source: meat, fish, dairy products, poultry, turkey, bananas, dried dates and peanuts.
VALINE (Essential Amino Acid)
Valine promotes mental vigor, muscle coordination and calm emotions. Valine is also significant for building muscle structure and is used as an energy source. Natural Food Source: dairy products, red meat and eggs.
ALANINE (Non-Essential Amino Acid)
Alanine is an important source of energy for muscle tissue, the brain and central nervous system. It also strengthens the immune system by producing antibodies. It has been shown to help in the metabolism of sugars and organic acids. It may also play a role in supporting prostate health. Natural Food Source: meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products.
ARGININE (Non-Essential Amino Acid)
Studies have shown that this amino acid has improved immune responses to bacteria, viruses and tumor cells. It also promotes wound healing and the regeneration of cells. Arginine causes the release of growth hormones and is considered crucial for optimal muscle growth and tissue repair. Arginine is also a precursor to nitric oxide, which the body uses to keep blood vessels dilated, allowing the heart to receive adequate oxygen. Researchers have begun to use arginine in people with heart disease. Natural Food Source: dairy, meat, poultry, fish, nuts and chocolate.
ASPARAGINE (Non-Essential Amino Acid)
This amino acid plays an important role in the biosynthesis of glycoproteins, and is also essential to the synthesis of a large number of other proteins. It is required by the nervous system to maintain equilibrium. Natural Food Source: nuts, brown rice, oatmeal, sunflower seeds, raisins, sesame seeds, dairy, beef, poultry and eggs.
ASPARTIC ACID (Non-Essential Amino Acid)
This amino acid aids in the expulsion of ammonia from the body (ammonia can be harmful to the central nervous system). Recent studies have shown that aspartic acid may increase resistance to fatigue and increase endurance. Natural Food Source: sugar cane, molasses, dairy, beef, poultry and sprouting seeds.
CYSTINE (Non-Essential Amino Acid)
This amino acid functions as an antioxidant and is a powerful aid to the body in protecting against radiation and pollution. It can help slow down the aging process by deactivating free radicals and neutralizing toxins. Cystine aids in protein synthesis and prevents cellular change. It is necessary for the formation of skin, and aids in the recovery from burns and surgical operations. Hair and skin are 10 - 14% cystine. Natural Food Source: meat, fish, dairy, poultry and eggs.
GLUTAMIC ACID (Non-Essential Amino Acid)
Considered to be nature's "brain food," glutamic acid is a precursor of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter. Glutamic acid may have protective effects on the heart muscle in people with heart disease. It speeds the healing of ulcers and gives a "lift" from fatigue. This amino acid may play a role in the normal function of the prostate. Natural Food Source: meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products.
GLUTAMINE (Non-Essential Amino Acid)
Glutamine is used by white blood cells and is important for immune function. It is also key in the digestive process as it serves as a source of fuel for cells lining the intestines. It helps balance the acid/alkaline level in the body and is also the basis for the building blocks of RNA and DNA. Glutamine has anti-inflammatory effects. Natural Food Source: fish, meat, beans and dairy products.
GLYCINE (Non-Essential Amino Acid)
This amino acid helps trigger the release of oxygen to the cell-making process. It is also important in the manufacturing of the hormones responsible for a strong immune system. Glycine combines with toxic chemicals in the body and makes them harmless. Natural Food Source: meat, fish and dairy.
HISTIDINE (Non-Essential Amino Acid)
Histidine (not to be confused with histamine) is found abundantly in hemoglobin. It has been used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, allergic diseases, ulcers and anemia. A histidine deficiency can cause poor hearing. Histidine is used to make histamine, a chemical that dilates blood vessels. Natural Food Source: Dairy, meat, poultry and fish.
PROLINE (Non-Essential Amino Acid)
This amino acid is extremely important for the proper functioning of joints and tendons. It also helps maintain and strengthen heart muscles. Natural Food Source: dairy products, eggs, meats and wheat germ.
SERINE (Non-Essential Amino Acid)
Serine is a storage source of glucose by the liver and muscles. It helps strengthen the immune system by providing antibodies. Serine also synthesizes the fatty acid sheath that protects nerve fibers. Natural Food Source: meat, fish and dairy.
TYROSINE (Non-Essential Amino Acid)
Tyrosine transmits nerve impulses to the brain, thus assisting with mood regulation, memory and mental alertness. It has also been implicated in the healthy functioning of the thyroid, adrenal and pituitary glands. Tyrosine is also used to make hair and skin pigment. Natural Food Source: dairy, meats, fish, wheat and oats.
I have to end this discussion about amino acids with a word about synergy. As this overview suggests, amino acids are incredible building blocks in the body. Amino acids are not just for building muscle, losing weight, or immune health, but for all of the functions of the body. The human body builds over 50,000 known proteins and over 15,000 known enzymes from various combinations of some or all of these amino acids. They work together with great precision and if your diet is missing a crucial amino acid element, it could wreak havoc on your health. A mentor of mine was once asked what one nutrient was the most important to the body. He responded with, "The one you are missing." It is imperative that we consume balanced sources of amino acids in our diets to assure that the body we live in will have the tools it needs to address all health issues and body functions.