Amino acids are known as the building blocks of proteins, these compounds play a crucial role in several bodily processes and functions. Protein is an essential macronutrient abundantly available in a wide range of animal and plant foods which are part of the regular meal plan.
In the body, protein serves several vital functions which include structural components of muscles, brain, nervous system, blood, skin and hair. It also maintains the acid-base and electrolyte balance in the system and transports oxygen and nutrients. Amino acids are needed for important processes like the building of proteins, synthesis of hormones and neurotransmitters.
Role Of Amino Acids
Amino acids are organic compounds made up of nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, together with the different side-chain groups. Long chains of amino acids are linked to peptide bonds which form the primary structure and determines its role in the body. The peptide also has a secondary, tertiary and quaternary structure and the final structure is the protein molecule.
Amino acids make up the enzymes that support numerous chemical reactions. They carry nutrients via the blood and cell membranes and transmits signals from one part of the body to another. The antibodies that shield us from several infections are made up of protein and the functions of protein are almost endless!
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There are about 20 different amino acids that are sequenced and folded to combine in boundless ways. Although all 20 amino acids are needed for optimal health, only nine amino acids are categorised as essential which include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. Essential amino acids cannot be synthesised in the body and must be supplemented through diet. Some of the food sources that are plentiful in essential amino acids are meat, eggs and poultry. When we eat a diet rich in protein, it is broken down into amino acids which are utilised by the body for several processes like building muscle mass and regulating the immune system. Also Checkout: 5 Splendid Immune Boosting Foods That Bolster Your Resistance - Infographic
The remaining 11 amino acids that are nonessential amino acids are categorised as conditionally essential. These are valued to be essential only udder certain situations like illness or stress. One such amino acid is arginine which the body needs when combatting against cancer and should be supplemented via diet.
Read through this article to get an insight into the nine essential amino acids and their functions
Essential Amino Acids And Its Functions
It is a precursor for the neurotransmitter tyrosine, dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine and the skin pigment melanin. Phenylalanine plays a critical role in maintaining the structure and function of proteins and enzymes and the synthesis of other amino acids. It is naturally abundant in milk, eggs, nuts, soybean and animal meat and also available in the form of a supplement.
Valine is one of three branched-chain amino acids, which has stimulant activity. It is a hydrophobic essential amino acid which is found in the interior region of proteins. It helps to promote muscle growth, tissue repair and regeneration and actively involved in energy production. Some of the good sources of valine include tofu, yogurt, beans, nuts and animal proteins.
Threonine is a vital amino acid vital for protein synthesis and forms a key part of structural proteins like collagen and elastin. Apart from this, it also plays an important role in fat metabolism, skin health and immune function. Cottage cheese, wheat germ oil and animal products are rich in threonine. Also Read: Cheese: Why You Should Eat These 5 Varieties For Nutrition And Weight Loss
It is an essential amino acid that is required for several important functions such as maintaining nitrogen balance in adults, promotes growth and development in infants. It is also involved in the production of niacin which is needed for synthesising neurotransmitter serotonin that regulates sleep, mood and appetite. Some of the food sources abundant in tryptophan include milk, pumpkin seeds, nuts, peanuts, cheese and lean meat.
Methionine is an essential amino acid that plays a distinct role both in protein structure and in metabolism. It is also needed for tissue growth, repair and absorption of essential minerals like zinc and selenium which are required to maintain optimal health. Apart from these it prevents liver damage and speeds up the wound healing process. Methionine is naturally found in meat, fish, milk and milk products.
Leucine is also a branched-chain amino acid-like valine needed for protein synthesis and repair. It also plays an important role in promoting muscle growth and also prevents the worsening of muscle with age. In addition, it also assists in regulating blood sugar, produces growth hormones and promotes wound healing process. Food sources that are rich in leucine include tofu, milk, cheese, squash seeds, eggs and lean meat.
Isoleucine is the last of the three branched-chain amino acids that are mainly involved in muscle metabolism and concentrated largely in muscle tissues. It also plays a key role in immune function, haemoglobin synthesis and energy production. Some of the food sources are extremely rich isoleucine include legumes, peas, and whole grain, nuts, seeds, and tofu, dairy and animal products.
It is an essential amino acid that plays a crucial role in protein synthesis, hormone and enzyme production and absorption of the essential mineral calcium. It is also needed for preventing and treating cold sores, boost energy, trigger immune function and production of collagen and elastin. Lysine is abundantly found in soybean, cheese, fenugreek seeds, spirulina, eggs and fish.
Histidine is involved in the production of histamine, a neurotransmitter that supports immune function, digestion, haemoglobin production, stimulate sexual organs and maintain the sleep cycles. It also plays a key role in maintaining normal pH of 7 by regulating the acid-base balance in the tissue and blood. Apart from this, it is required for maintaining the myelin sheath, a protective shield around the nerve cells. Some of the food sources rich in histidine include whole grain, nuts, seeds, fish and meat.
The nine essential amino acids play a diverse role in the system. They are actively involved in important bodily functions and processes such as muscle development and repair, tissue growth, immune function, energy production and nutrient absorption. Eating a well-balanced diet abundant in these complete protein sources like meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, and dairy and plant-based sources like soy, quinoa, nuts, beans and chia seeds will help you to meet their requirement.