The cornerstones of proteins
Amino acids are vital for every organism, indeed without them it would simply not exist. They form the basic building blocks of all proteins and are capable of forming tissue (organs, muscles, skin, etc.). They also serve as hormones, as a precursor of enzymes and neurotransmitters. They are involved in numerous metabolic processes that take place in our body every day.
Essential amino acids
Of the 20 proteinogenic amino acids (proteins can be formed from them), 8 are essential. Amino acids that the body needs but cannot produce itself are called essential amino acids (or EAA – Essential Amino Acids) and must be taken in with food. The following amino acids belong to this group and are briefly explained individually below: leucine, isoleucine, valine, lysine, phenylalanine, threonine, methionine and tryptophan. Certain amino acids (e.g. arginine and histidine) are often called semi-essential because they are only needed in certain situations, such as growing up or during recovery. The body can produce them from essential amino acids, but less and less enough as we age. Today, these amino acids are also called non-essentia
L- or D-form
Protein-forming amino acids (with the exception of glycine) basically occur in two chemical structures, or forms, namely the L-form or the D-form. L-amino acids are “levorotatory” (from levo, left), whereas D-amino acids are “dextrorotatory” (from dextro, right). (A mixture of these two forms is called a racemate form.) In principle, however, the human body can only utilise the L-form, as it only has the right enzymes for this. Exceptions are glycine, taurine and creatine, which do not have different forms. The body can utilise these naturally. And the other exception is DL-phenylalanine, which can be absorbed very well.
Balanced amino acid intake is important
It is very important for the body to have a balanced amino acid balance. If this is out of balance, it can have enormous effects on immune competence, energy balance, as well as the structure and functionality of the body. An increased need for essential amino acids is required in the following situations or individuals: Vegetarians and vegans, children and adolescents, pregnant and breastfeeding women, senior citizens, overweight people, athletes, stressed people and in certain diseases
Leucine, isoleucine and valine
Due to their structure, leucine, isoleucine and valine belong to the so-called branched-chain amino acids, also known as BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids). Their effect is similar and in good combination they are a strong team
These three amino acids are very important for muscle building because they have many properties that can have a positive effect on protein synthesis. They also prevent the breakdown of proteins in the body after physical exertion, which has a positive effect on muscle maintenance
During major physical stress situations (e.g. operations or injuries), valine prevents increased protein breakdown. This also has an influence on wound healing and resistance to infections, for example.
The three amino acids also have a positive effect on the body’s own energy production; they inhibit glucose breakdown in the body during or after intensive sporting activities. They stimulate insulin secretion and ensure the regulation of blood sugar. They also serve as a source of energy in situations where the body is exposed to particularly strong stress. Even when both the carbohydrate reserves and the fat stores are depleted, energy-rich glucose can be formed from the amino acids. This also comes into play during diets, for example. Leucine, isoleucine and valine are very suitable during diets because they cause an increase in the energetic basal metabolic rate and thus actively support weight loss.
BCAAs are also involved in the release of the growth hormone somatotropin. While this hormone mainly regulates bone growth during puberty, it has a direct influence on the ratio of muscle tissue and fat cells as we age.
In the central nervous system, valine also acts as an important precursor of the messenger substances that transmit information and stimuli from one nerve cell to another.
Even more can be expected from BCAAs. They play an important role in liver diseases in particular. Patients suffering from mental illnesses such as schizophrenia can also benefit from them
Lysine has various tasks; it contributes to the formation of enzymes, hormones and antibodies. It is of great importance for the immune system; it is effective against viruses (e.g. against herpes viruses, which can trigger cold sores). It promotes cell division and bone growth, is involved in building collagen and supports fat metabolism. It also promotes wound healing. Children and adolescents have an increased need for this essential amino acid compared to adults
Phenylalanine is involved in the production of important endogenous substances, it is the precursor for many hormones that regulate various important functions in the body. It is also the precursor of the amino acid tyrosine, from which various catecholamines, hormones and neurotransmitters are formed
Threonine has various functions; it plays an important role in the immune system. This is because it is needed for the formation of immunoglobulins and antibodies. It also helps to maintain the healthy function of the thymus gland, where the T-lymphocytes mature (group of white blood cells that serve the immune defence). In addition, threonine is an important building block in the chain of protein metabolism and contributes to the formation of enzymes and hormones. It is also involved in the biosynthesis of vitamin B12 and isoleucine. Threonine is used for energy production during heavy physical exertion
Methionine is involved in various bodily functions; it contributes to the formation of many substances in the body, such as hormones, neurotransmitters and nucleic acids. Methionine is a precursor of the amino acids cysteine and taurine and the antioxidant glutathione. The metabolically active form of methionine is S-adenosyl-methionine, this is found in almost all body tissues and fluids and is required for the synthesis, stimulation and breakdown of many substances in the body. As such, it is particularly active in the brain. Methionine also supports the regeneration of the liver and kidneys. It has an antioxidant effect and can detoxify substances such as lead, histamine or ammonia or accelerate their breakdow
Tryptophan is needed by the body to produce serotonin, which induces falling asleep and promotes the transition into deep sleep and the REM sleep phase. Serotonin also contributes to a healthy resistance to stress and reduces mood swings and has a mood-lifting effect. Serotonin is further converted to the sleep hormone melatonin, which is important for the functioning of our “inner clock” (circadian rhythm). However, to metabolise tryptophan to serotonin, and later to melatonin, it needs some cofactors. These include some vitamins from the B-complex(B3, B5, B6, B12), magnesium, alpha lipoic acid or beatin.