Amino acids are organic compounds that join together and form proteins. Similarly, when the proteins you eat are broken down, amino acids are the bi-product. When our bodies use amino acids to make proteins it helps our bodies in several ways, including digesting food, repairing body tissue and growth and development. There are three kinds of amino acids:
- Essential amino acids
- Nonessential amino acids
- Conditional amino acids
Here we will look at the essential amino acids and why we need them to stay healthy.
What are Essential Amino Acids?
There are nine amino acids that our bodies cannot create on their own. These nine must be obtained by eating certain foods each day. Unlike non-essential amino acids, rather than storing up a supply in our bodies, we need a daily supply of to create new proteins to be used by our body.
What Makes Them Essential?
The reason we refer to these compounds as essential is because they cannot be made by the body or stored in the body. It is “essential” that we consume a healthy amount of these amino acids each day. Ideally they should come from the food we eat. However, for many of us a supplement that includes these amino acid gems can keep our levels in check.
What are the 9 Essential Amino Acids?
The 9 essential amino acids include: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Notably, histidine is only required for the healthy development of infants, not adults.
Why Do We Need Essential Amino Acids?
Essential amino acids are a very important compound needed in the creation of proteins inside the body. They do a number of important jobs, including:
- Building cells
- Repairing tissue
- Forming antibodies to fight bacteria and viruses
- Help with the enzyme and hormonal system
- Build nucleoproteins (RNA & DNA)
- Carry oxygen throughout the body
- Aid in muscle activity
When protein is broken down during digestion they leave behind the 22 amino acids. Aside from water, amino acid proteins comprise the highest portion of our body. They make up tendons, muscles, ligaments, organs, hair, nails and bodily fluids. Without amino acids our cells just wouldn’t work properly.
What Happens When We Don’t Have Enough?
If your body lacks just one of the nine needed essential amino acids the consequences are immediate. We will quickly see the break down of our body’s proteins, including all the systems listed above. The first physical symptom you are like to experience is the wasting or atrophy of muscles in the body. Other symptoms would include a weakened immune response, bodily weakness, fatigue and changes to the texture of your skin and hair. You might also experience psychological symptoms such as increased stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms.
Do We Need to Eat All Nine Essential Amino Acids Every Day?
The short answer is yes! Because our bodies cannot store or make essential amino acids, we need the right balance every day to perform at our best. Skipping just one of these must-have’s can lead to negative symptoms. Making sure to eat a varied diet and include an amino acid supplement will help you function optimally.
How Do We Get Enough Essential Amino Acids?
We need to consume these important amino acids each day, but how can we make sure we get enough of what we need? There are three important things to keep in mind:
Include Complete Proteins
Foods like beef, dairy products, eggs, poultry and seafood include all of the nine essential amino acids, thus they are known as complete proteins. However, some of these food rich proteins have a high fat content so be careful to adhere to the proper amounts of each.
What About Incomplete Proteins?
Another type of protein that helps us meet our amino acid needs is plant based or incomplete proteins. Things like rice, tofu, beans and legumes offer us some, but not all of the essential amino acids. Vegetarians and those limiting their meat intake should eat a diet with many different kinds of plant-based protein to make sure you get all nine essential amino acids in your body each day.
Take an Amino Acid Supplement
When in doubt you can opt to take a daily amino acid supplement to make sure your body gets what it needs. Be careful that the supplement you choose is of the highest quality so you know you are getting the right potency and blend of amino acids.
What Are Conditionally Essential Amino Acids?
Six other amino acids are considered “conditionally essential” in the human diet, which means that synthesis of these six can become limited under certain conditions. Some such conditions include premature birth or people under extreme physical distress. These six are arginine, cysteine, glycine, glutamine, proline, and tyrosine.
Essential amino acids are an important part of what our bodies need to work properly. While we don’t need to eat essential and nonessential amino acids at every meal, we do need a balance over the course of the day. When our bodies are missing the proper amount of just one of the nine essential amino acids we will start to experience unwanted symptoms like fatigue and muscle weakness. By including these necessary elements throughout the day we can keep our bodies functioning at their very best.