The body uses chemical substances
called amino acids to build the exact type of protein it needs. There
are two types: essential and nonessential. While the body must get the
essential amino acids from foods, it can manufacture the nonessential
amino acids on its own if the diet is lacking in them.
Of the approximately 80 amino acids
found in nature, only 20 are necessary for proper human growth and function.
Not only do they help make neurotransmitters--the chemicals that convey
messages in the brain--they also help produce hormones such as insulin;
enzymes that activate bodily functions; and certain types of body fluids.
In addition, they are essential for the repair and maintenance of organs,
glands, muscles, tendons, ligaments, skin, hair, and nails.
An amino acid deficiency is usually
caused by a diet that is low in protein, although the level of certain
acids can also drop in the presence of trauma, infection, medication
effects, stress, aging, and chemical imbalances within the body. A blood
test can detect a deficiency, which can be corrected by taking amino
acid supplements. In addition, certain amino acids taken in supplement
form may aid in fighting heart disease, lowering blood pressure, protecting
against stroke, and alleviating intermittent claudication (a type of
leg pain caused by blocked arteries in the legs). They may also help
in treating cancer, reducing sugar cravings, building immunity, and
protecting the body in various other ways.
Look for amino acid supplements
prefaced by the letter L (such as L-arginine). These are more similar
to the amino acids in the body than are amino acid supplements prefaced
by the letter D. (One exception is D-L phenylalanine, which treats chronic
The essential amino acids are histidine,
isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, cysteine, phenylalanine, tyrosine,
threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
The nonessential amino acids are
alanine, aspartic acid, arginine, citrulline, glutamic acid, glycine,
hydroxyglumatic acid, hydroxyproline, norleucine, proline, and serine.
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