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Amino Acids: Did You Know?

Question:  What organ or part of the body requires the most amino acids to function well? The answer follows below.

Amino acids are the building blocks of the human body.

When protein is broken down by digestion, the end result is 22 different amino acids. These 22 amino acids (in various combinations) produce some 50,000 proteins, and over 15,000 enzymes. In addition to building cells and repairing tissue, they form antibodies that combat invading bacteria & viruses. They power enzymatic reactions and boost hormonal function. They build nucleoproteins (RNA & DNA); they carry oxygen throughout the body, they produce cellular energy and are a necessary pre-requisite for muscular activity. Of the 22 amino acids, 8 are considered "essential" because the body cannot manufacture them; they must be obtained from foods or dietary supplements.

Essential amino acids aren't just for bodybuilders!

While essential amino acid use (most specifically the three EAA's known as the "branch chain" or BCAA's) were popularized by bodybuilders, they play a much broader and more significant role in our functional health and well-being.  Essential amino acids support mental health by normalizing moods, attention, concentration, energy, and depth of sleep. They protect against the loss of muscle as we get older. They support energy production by improving the number and efficiency of mitochondria. They promote stronger tendons and ligaments, and thicker skin and hair. They speed physical recovery by improving the rate of muscular repair and supporting adrenal health.

Eight of the 22 amino acids must be obtained from food. 

Since the essential amino acids cannot be manufactured by the human body, they are a dietary requirement. Once consumed, the body uses these eight EAA's to create the other 14 amino acids it needs. 

The body needs essential amino acids in order to derive amino acids from food!

All enzymes, including digestive enzymes, are made from amino acids. When protein is consumed, the body breaks it down into individual amino acids so that the cells can re-assemble them according to its needs. The catch is that the right kind of enzymes are required for the initial breakdown of protein. So the lack of even one essential amino acid can result in an inability to produce adequate amounts of the enzymes that are necessary for the complete digestion of dietary proteins.

Here's the answer:  If you're like most people, you guessed that the muscles require the most amino acids. But the correct answer is the pancreas. The pancreas requires a large number of amino acids to make an even larger number of digestive enzymes and hormones, including insulin and glucagon.  The bottom line? An essential amino acid deficiency will result in poor digestion and food utilization. 

Up next:  I'll discuss the "how to's" of using an essential amino acid supplement for optimal health and physical performance.