What are amino acids and explain their importance?
Amino acids are commonly referred to as "building blocks" of the body. Proteins, which make up our muscles, tendons, organs, glands, nails, and hair, are composed of these chemical compounds. Amino acids contribute to the healthy functioning of the nervous system, muscular structure, hormone production, and vital organs, and are necessary for the growth, repair and maintenance of cells in the body.
There are two types of amino acids. Essential amino acids must come from the diet as the body cannot make its own. These include arginine (necessary for children, but not for adults), histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. The body does not store excess amino acids as it does with fats and starches, so essential amino acids need to be part of a person's daily diet. Non-essential acids are those which the body can manufacture from other sources.
Amino acids are the constituents of proteins, the main role that protein plays is one of repair and building. Proteins build and repair tissue in the body. Most enzymes are composed of proteins, enzymes are necessary to facilitate biochemical reactions in the cells.
The body is in a constant state of breakdown and repair, you are constantly losing cells and building new cells. For example, when you go to the sink and wash your hands, thousands of epidermal cells are lost by the friction of scrubbing the hands together. Amino acids are needed to form proteins to allow your body to build new skin cells. Another good example is the GI tract, cells that line the tract are lost daily every time to have a bowel movement, amino acids and proteins are needed to replace these cells that you lose.
Basically amino acids are the building blocks of proteins containing two carbon bond, used by our body cells to build proteins in order to survive, which are essential for our body to stay healthy and active.
There are various biological processes that take place in our body, proteins play an important and crucial role in them. 20 percent of our body is made up of proteins. Since amino acids are the building blocks of proteins hence these are also important for our body playing many roles in the functions and biological processes taking place in our body.
Meirion Jones, a well-known BBC journalist states that;
“Unfortunately, in the real world countless factors are working to prevent our bodies from receiving a full and balanced supply of these all-important substances. Among these factors are the pollution caused by burning fossil-fuels, the hormones fed to cattle, the intensive use of fertilizers in agriculture, and even habits such as smoking and drinking, all of which can prevent our bodies from fully using what we eat. Worse still is the amount of nutrition that is lost from our food through processing before we actually get to eat it...By providing the body with optimal nutrition, amino acids help to replace what is lost and, in doing so, promote well-being and vitality.”
Therefore the importance of amino acids can be understood by the various functions they perform like;
- Important in the functioning of enzymes which are the protein catalysts that speed up biological processes and help in digestion of large molecules by breaking them down into small molecules so they can be easily absorbed.
- Important in giving strength to our brain for handling different situations and showing true emotions (staying away from depression like diseases)
- Important during fasting, when we cannot eat or drink then the breakdown of muscles proteins gives us energy
- Important in the function and production of hormones which are chemical messengers in our body that travel through bloodstream to various organs carrying messages.
- Important in glucose production
- Important in keeping our hair healthy and strong
- Essential in transmission of oxygen through blood throughout the body
- Important in the function of cell replication and division in which cells are duplicated and DNA is formed
- Important in immunity production which protects our body from the effects of bacteria and viruses.
- Important in keeping our nails strong
- Amino acids acts as an energy source for various organs like liver, muscles, lungs etc