Definitions of Essential Amino Acids

Amino acids are the smallest unit of protein and can be defined as an organic molecule made up of amine and carboxylic acid functional groups—an amino acid is composed of nitrogen, carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen molecules.

Essential amino acids, also called limiting amino acids, are those that can not be produced in our body and there fore have to be obtained from food sources. There are 8 essential amino acids.

Functions of essential amino acids

Amino acids are useful components in a variety of metabolisms. Even though, some roles can be highlighted as a function of an amino acid, it is important to be aware that they are part of complex pathways and biological systems. The function and use of an amino acid is dependent on other amino acids, mineral elements, carbohydrate and fatty acids and has an indirect effects that are manifested in myriad metabolisms.

Examples of uses of amino acids:

Tryptophan: Necessary for the synthesis of neurotransmitter serotonin. It helps releive migraine and depression. (Food sources of tryptophan)

Tyrosine: Is precursor of dopamine, norepinephrine and adrenaline. It enhances positive mood. It is also antioxidant.

Valine: Essential for muscle development. Side effects of high levels of valine in the body include hallucinations.

Isoleucine: Necessary for the synthesis of hemoglobin, major constituent of red blood cells.

Leucine: Beneficial for skin, bone and tissue wound healing. It promotes growth hormone synthesis. (Leucine rich foods )

Lysine: Component of muscle protein, and is needed in the synthesis of enzymes and hormones. It is also a precursor for L-carathine which is essential for healthy nervous system function.

Methionine: Is antioxidant. It helps in breakdown of fats and aids in reducing muscle degeneration. It is also good for healthy skin and nail.

Phenylalanine: Beneficial for healthy nervous system. It boosts memory and learning. It may be useful against depression and suppressing appetite. More on phenyalanine (health benefits, side effects, list of foods containing phenylalanine)

Amino Acid Content in Foods
Arginine Tryptophan
Leucine Lysine
Amino acid symbols
Essential amino acids Non-Essential amino acids