What Are Amino Acids and Why Are They Good for You?

What Are Amino Acids and Why Are They Good for You?

Amino acids receive a lot of attention in the health and fitness industry, and for a good reason. These little powerhouses play a significant role in almost every function of the human body. But what do amino acids do, and where do they come from? Read on to learn everything you need to know about amino acids. 

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What Is an Amino Acid?

Amino acids are organic chemicals found in all living organisms. Composed of oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen and carbon, amino acids combine to form proteins. Our bodies use protein for countless processes, making amino acids an essential part of a healthy body. 

These molecules perform many vital functions. They help the body:

  • Digest food
  • Grow and repair tissues
  • Make hormones and brain chemicals
  • Provide energy
  • Build muscle
  • Boost immunity

Amino acids support plenty of other bodily functions, as well.

Types of Amino Acids

The body requires 20 different amino acids to operate smoothly. Out of these 20, the body creates 11 on its own, which are known as nonessential amino acids. Some nonessential amino acids are further classified as conditional, meaning they’re only essential if the body is sick or in distress. The remaining nine must come from the food we eat and are known as essential amino acids.

Nonessential Amino Acids

Your body creates these amino acids itself:

  • Alanine helps metabolize and clear toxins from the body. 
  • Arginine promotes healthy circulation and blood pressure.
  • Asparagine supports the central nervous system and healthy brain cells.
  • Aspartic acid creates other amino acids and essential enzymes.
  • Cysteine stimulates collagen production for healthy bones, skin, muscles, tendons and cartilage.
  • Glutamic acid helps energize the brain.
  • Glutamine supports digestion, immune health and cognitive function.
  • Glycine heals wounds and aids vision and hearing.
  • Proline regenerates skin and other tissues.
  • Serine promotes muscle development, fat burning, immune health and positive mood.
  • Tyrosine helps alleviate high blood pressure, chronic pain and depression.

Essential Amino Acids

You have to get these amino acids from your diet:

  • Histidine produces histamine, a chemical that plays a key role in the body’s immune system, sleep and digestion.
  • Isoleucine helps the body create hemoglobin, regulates energy and promotes muscle growth and immunity.
  • Leucine assists the body in making growth hormones and building protein. It also aids in muscle growth and repair, manages blood sugar and heals injuries.
  • Lysine helps produce hormones, energy and enzymes. It also boosts calcium absorption and the immune system.
  • Methionine assists the body in metabolizing, detoxifying and growing tissue. It also helps the body absorb essential minerals like zinc, which supports the immune system.
  • Phenylalanine helps produce the brain’s neurotransmitters, including epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine. It also helps produce other amino acids.
  • Threonine is involved in producing collagen and elastin, which help form skin and connective tissues. It also aids in metabolizing fat and strengthening the immune system. 
  • Tryptophan manages the proper balance of nitrogen in the body. It also creates serotonin, a chemical in the brain that regulates sleep, appetite and mood.
  • Valine plays a part in growing muscles, regenerating tissues and creating energy for the body. 

Conditional Amino Acids

Conditional amino acids become essential in certain circumstances, such as pregnancy or illness. These include:

  • Arginine
  • Cysteine
  • Glutamine
  • Glycine
  • Ornithine
  • Proline
  • Serine 
  • Tyrosine

The Benefits of Amino Acids

Amino acids play a role in nearly every system in the body. Following are 10 ways the body benefits from a healthy balance of amino acids:

The Benefits of Amino Acids
  1. They provide the body with energy. Isoleucine and valine are good energy sources to power the body.
  2. They strengthen our bones and muscles. Isoleucine and valine also promote healthy muscle function, and leucine helps repair muscle tissue. Lysine assists in calcium absorption, which is necessary for strong bones. 
  3. They regulate digestion. Histidine helps build histamine, a chemical that helps produce the gastric juices needed for healthy digestion.
  4. They promote rest. Tryptophan and histidine increase serotonin levels in the brain, which helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Because sleep quality is important for physical and mental health alike, these and other amino acids are key.
  5. They support the immune system. Histidine, lysine and threonine strengthen immunity to help the body fight off illness. Glycine, glutamic acid and cysteine combine to make glutathione, which can help prevent you from getting sick.
  6. They produce neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are the body’s chemical messengers. They relay signals from the nervous system to the brain, influencing everything from muscle movement and heart rate to mood and many other functions. Phenylalanine and tryptophan help build neurotransmitters.
  7. They stimulate healthy skin, nail and hair growth. Threonine is one of the building blocks of collagen, elastin and keratin, which make up healthy hair, supple skin and strong nails
  8. They produce hormones. Tryptophan, lysine and leucine are each involved in creating and regulating hormones. Hormones help regulate your body’s processes, from growth and metabolism to mood.
  9. They help maintain a healthy body weight. Methionine assists with metabolism, a function that converts food to energy in the body. Threonine is useful for burning fat. 
  10. They balance your moods. Tryptophan stimulates serotonin production. This hormone is responsible for feelings of happiness and well-being.

Foods With Amino Acids

Essential amino acids naturally occur in a variety of foods. Meat and eggs are among the best sources because they easily digest and get to work in the body.

Some foods are known as complete proteins because they have all nine of the essential amino acids. They include:

  • Meat like beef, fish and poultry
  • Other animal products like dairy and eggs
  • Plant-based foods like soy, buckwheat and quinoa

Incomplete proteins are foods that only supply some essential amino acids. Foods like nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans and vegetables fall into this category. Vegetarians or vegans can combine these foods to form complete proteins.  

Alternative Ways to Take in Amino Acids

While most people get an adequate intake of amino acids through a healthy diet, others, like athletes and aging adults, may need more than food can provide. In these cases, supplements can be used to boost intake.

Certain medical conditions or medications can cause people to have difficulty absorbing oral supplements or food. IV infusions can be an effective alternative in these cases because they place amino acids directly in the vein. 

Get an Amino Acid Infusion at Home

Get an Amino Acid Infusion at Home

Our IV infusions are crafted with amino acids to help supplement your dietary intake. Whether you are recovering from athletic performance, want to help boost your immune system or just need a little more than you can get from food, Mobile IV Medics has a drip for you. Book an appointment for fast, effective mobile IV therapy. 

About the author

Brad
Brad Wenderoth, Pharm.D.

Brad Wenderoth, Pharm.D. is a licensed pharmacist and co-owner of Mobile IV Medics. With over 16 years of healthcare experience, Brad is bringing his expertise and passion for patient care to the Mobile IV Medics patient population. Prior to Mobile IV Medics, Brad worked in varying areas including both direct patient care and hospital leadership at Keck Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, nationwide health system pharmacy consulting for Comprehensive Pharmacy Services (CPS), and professor of pharmacy at the USC School of Pharmacy. He holds a doctorate in pharmacy from the University of Arizona, a pharmacy practice residency from USC, and a lean six sigma green belt from Johns Hopkins.