Amino acids are called the building blocks of protein. Our bodies use twenty different amino acids (AAs) in making protein. Nine are called “essential” meaning we must obtain them in our diet. The other eleven can be synthesized from others so are called “non-essential”. Some of these non-essential AAs, are considered “conditionally essential” because our ability to synthesize them is limited, so a dietary source may be required for them as well. Four of these - cysteine, taurine, tyrosine, and arginine - are essential in infants and children, whose synthesis pathways are still undeveloped.
These 20 amino acids are specific for each function, so if we are deficient in even one our health can suffer. In addition to the proteins that make up tissues like skin, hair, nerves, the brain, organs, muscles and even bones, amino acids are also an essential component of enzymes, hormones and neurotransmitters.
Our dietary source of amino acids is protein, which is broken down in the acidic environment of the stomach into individual amino acids. If our stomach acid is insufficient, protein digestion may be incomplete resulting in amino acid deficiencies. Different proteins contain different amino acids and in different amounts; to ensure sufficient intake of all AAs, you should eat a variety of animal and plant protein foods. Amino acid supplements, in powder or capsule form, are available as complete formulas to ensure a balance of all the AAs, or as single amino acids for specific deficiencies or health problems.
Most amino acids come in two forms, called isomers, where one is a mirror image of the other. The L form is the natural one which works best for almost all functions; the D form is artificially synthesized and does not work as well. In choosing amino acid supplements, look for the L form, e.g. L-Lysine.
Watch for more columns on amino acids in the coming weeks. Next week – Branched Chain Amino Acids, beneficial for building and maintaining muscle in athletes and the elderly.
For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.