The human body is a very complex structure made up of diverse systems. And just like any other structure, there are certain things put in place to ensure its smooth operation. Amino acids are one such thing. This is a natural organic compound commonly referred to as protein’s building blocks. You might have heard about proteins, a popular class of food that helps us maintain a balanced and healthy diet. Without amino acids, there would be no proteins. These amino acids are so vital that a shortage of them would result in certain deficiencies. This might lead one to ask, how many amino acids are in the body?
Before we go on to look at the answer to that question let us understand more about these compounds. Amino acids are naturally made up of two functional groups, namely, carboxylic acid and an amine. Both of which are connected to one carbon atom. The key component of these amino acids, widely referred to as its elements are carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and hydrogen. Biochemistry explains how these elements combine to form amino acids. Some of the functions of amino acids include; aiding metabolic processes, triggering wound repair, muscle, and bone growth.
How many amino acids are in the body?
There are a total of twenty-one amino acids in our body. But not all of them are produced within the body, some are gotten from food sources. These type of amino acids are called essential amino acids. Altogether there are three different types of amino acids, we have the essential amino acids, the conditionally essential amino acids, and the non-essential amino acids.
Like mentioned, our body gets the essential amino acids from our diet. There are nine such amino acids.
- Phenylalanine: It helps in making sure that the body is able to use its fellow amino acids, enzymes, and proteins. Tyrosine is gotten from phenylalanine and it is needed for some brain function. Phenylalanine deficiencies are rare, they include inadequate weight gain at infancy, fatigue, and eczema.
- Methionine: These essential acid works together with cysteine, a nonessential compound, to maintain the health and flexibility of the hair and skin. Our nails stay strong because of methionine. It also helps in removing heavy metals like mercury and lead.
- Lysine: This amino acid helps in muscle building, wound healing, regulation of hormones, enzymes, and antibodies. It is also said to have some antiviral effects. Only a few studies have been carried out on humans to determine the deficiencies caused by a lack of lysine. But from a study conducted on rats, it has been discovered that lack of this amino acid can result in anxiety caused by stress.
- Leucine: The function of this compound includes, muscle growth and repair, regulation of blood sugar, healing of the wound, and growth hormone production. Shortage of leucine in the body can cause hair loss, fatigue, and skin rashes.
- Isoleucine: Healing of wounds, immune function, regulation of blood sugar and energy levels, production of hormones are some of the roles of this amino acid. Isoleucine deficiency may lead to muscle shaking and wasting.
- Threonine: In order to have healthy teeth and skin, we need threonine. This amino acid can be found in collagen, elastin and the enamel of the tooth. It is also useful in the metabolism of fat. People suffering from anxiety, mild depression, and indigestion may find it beneficial. A study on fish led to the discovery that a lack of threonine causes these animals to have a low level of resistance to diseases.
- Histidine: This essential amino acid aids growth, repair of tissues and blood cell production. It also maintains the myelin sheath which covers the nerve cells. Our body produces histamine from histidine. Histamine helps to maintain immunity, aids digestion, and reproductive health. A deficiency of these amino acids can result in anemia.
- Valine: We should appreciate valine for helping our mental focus, for coordinating our muscles and keeping us calm. People who lack this amino acid may suffer from a lowered mental function and insomnia.
- Tryptophan: The body of infants needs this amino acid in order to grow properly. It is also a sedative and is usually used in the production of sleep aids. Pellagra is a skin condition that is caused by a lack of tryptophan.
Conditional Amino Acids
These are produced within our bodies. But in the case where one is sick, the body might not be able to produce as many as needed thus, there might be a need to consciously eat food that contains them. These eight conditional amino acids are;
- Cystine: Glutathione is synthesized by cystine. This glutathione acts as a major antioxidant to cells and plays a vital role in the repair of tissues and the synthesis of collagen.
- Arginine: This amino acid stimulates the regeneration of protein, accelerates the secretion of insulin, and aids the amino acids to move into cells.
- Tyrosine: It is usually gotten from phenylalanine
- Glutamine: Epithelial cells and fibroblasts use this amino acid as a source of fuel.
- Serine: It aids metabolic processes and acts as a precursor to phospholipids, nucleotides, D-serine, and glycine.
- Proline: This amino acid is necessary for some protein production such as cartilage and collagen.
- Glycine: It helps the CNS to be calm. When taken in large doses it might reduce some schizophrenia symptoms.
Non-essential Amino Acids
Just like the name implies these are not so very vital to us. Our body can do without these but there are some specific cases where they will be required. They include;
- Alanine: This compound has an integral role to play in glucose production and conversion to energy.
- Aspartic acid: It acts as a precursor to some essential amino acids like methionine, lysine, threonine, and isoleucine.
- Asparagine: It is necessary for brain development and function. It is also needed during the production of ammonia.
- Glutamic acid: Once in the human body it becomes a neurotransmitter that is associated with memory, speech, language, and learning.
- Arginine: They play a role in the release play hormones, wound healing, immune function, removal of ammonia, and cell division.
We now know how many amino acids are in the body, their different functions, and some of their deficiencies. If you desire to have clean health then it is expected that you go after food sources that contain these amino acids. There are also supplements that can give your body the needed amino acids.