Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. They band together in chains to form the stuff from which your life is born. Think of amino acids as Legos for your life.
It's a two-step process: Amino acids get together and form peptides or polypeptides. It is from these groupings that proteins are made. And there's not just one kind of amino acid.
A total of 20 different kinds of amino acids form proteins. The kinds of amino acids determine the shape of the proteins formed. Commonly recognized amino acids include glutamine, glycine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, and valine. Three of those — phenylalanine, tryptophan, and valine — are essential amino acids for humans; the others are isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, and threonine. The essential amino acids cannot be synthesized by the body; instead, they must be ingested through food.
One of the best-known essential amino acids is tryptophan, which performs several critical functions for people. Tryptophan helps induce normal sleep; helps reduce anxiety, depression, and artery spasm risk; and helps produce a stronger immune system. Tryptophan is perhaps most well-known for its role in producing serotonin, which is what gets all the press at Thanksgiving time for putting you to sleep after the big holiday feast.
Amino acids make up 75% of the human body. They are essential to nearly every bodily function. Every chemical reaction that takes place in your body depends on amino acids and the proteins that they build.
The essential amino acids must be ingested every day. Failure to get enough of even one of the 10 essential amino acids can result in protein degradation. The human body simply does not store amino acids for later use, as it does with fats and starches. You can find amino acids many places in nature. In fact, more than 300 have been found in the natural world, from such diverse sources as microorganisms and meteorites.
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