Essential Amino Acids
Essential amino acids are amino acids that cannot be synthesized by the body; therefore, they have to come from the diet. Amino acids are generally organic compounds that have a carboxyl group and an amino group. This group of amino acids is also known as indispensable amino acids. They are nine amino acids which the body cannot synthesize yet they are important for various bodily functions. They also work together in promoting health. The nine indispensable amino acids are histidine, leucine, isoleucine, lysine, phenylalanine, methionine, tryptophan, valine and threonine.
Why are essential amino acids so important?
These amino acids are important because they are the building blocks of proteins. Protein is very important to the body. All body cells are made of protein. Protein is also important for the repair, maintenance and growth of body cells. Actually, proteins are amino acids’ chains that are linked together and they regulate several body functions. They control the balance of pH and water while repairing cells and bones. Proteins facilitate nutrients’ exchange between tissues while providing energy to the body as well as forming chromosomes’ structural basis.
Additionally, some of these amino acids are neurotransmitters that facilitate communication between the nervous cells and the brain. Their presence enables minerals and vitamins to perform their vital functions. Without some of these amino acids, the body cannot function normally and even death can occur in extreme cases.
How the body gets these amino acids
The body gets these amino acids in the following ways:
- From foods
The body cannot produce these amino acids therefore it has to get them from foods. This is why people are encouraged to eat foods that supply indispensable amino acids.
- Protein breakdown
If you do not eat foods that supply these amino acids to the body, it might break down proteins in your muscles to get them. This is what happens during starvation.
- Stored amino acids
The body is capable of storing these amino acids for hours. This makes it possible for individuals to survive even when they do not eat foods that supply them for hours.
When and where the body gets essential amino acids from
Your body gets these amino acids when you eat foods that supply them. They are usually available from different sources.
Common sources of indispensable amino acids are as follows:
- Histidine: Commonly found in game meat including antelope, boar, deer and pork.
- Isoleucine: This is common in egg whites, turkey, chicken, soy and crab.
- Leucine: This is found in foods like seaweed, elk, soy and egg whites.
- Methionine: It is commonly found in egg whites, fish, turkey, elk, crab, lobster and chicken.
- Threonine: This is common in raw watercress, fish, meats and spinach. It is also found in turkey, moose, soy and egg whites.
- Valine: Egg whites have the highest amount of valine. It is also found in seaweed, elk, turkey, spinach and watercress.
- Tryptophan: This amino acid has a common association with turkey but it is also found in sea lion meat and elk. Egg whites, soy, spinach and seaweed also have it.
- Phenylalanine: This is found in meat especially pork, turkey, beef, lamb and veal. It is also found in salmon, sesame flour and cottonseed flour.
- Lysine: This is highly concentrated in chicken breast as well as turkey breast. Sunfish, tuna, cod, dolphin, pike, ling and cusk are also great sources of Lysine. It is also found in watercress, parsley and seaweed.
Failure to get these amino acids has severe health implications including degradation of the protein in the body structures such as muscles which can be dismantled to provide the amino acid that the body needs.
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