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What Are Amino Acids?

Amino acids are the building blocks of life. These “protein blocks” combine to create chains that make up 75 percent of the human body. Without amino acids we would not exist—nor could we survive. Amino acids are crucial for practically every bodily function. In fact, almost all of the chemical processes and reactions that our body undergoes involves at least one kind of amino acid.

There are many different kinds of amino acids—20, in fact. These form the different kidns of proteins. These amino acids include glutamine, glycine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, and valine. The last three are crucial for human life. For example, tryptophan is crucial for proper sleep because it produces seratonin. It is also crucial for a healthy immune system and even for happiness—low levels of tryptohan have been linked to depression and anxiety. Other amino acids include isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, and threonine.

Aside from the amino acids that naturally occur in the body, we must also take in other amino acids through food. Low amino acids can lead to protein degradation. It is also important to get amino acids on a regular basis because unlike fat and starch the body is incapable of storing it. Meat is a good source of amino acids, so vegetarians may need additional sources of amino acids. There are many amino acid supplements that are sold in health stores, and amino acid-enriched seasonings sold in supermarkets.

Amino acids are quite abundant in nature. Many microorganisms have amino acids. Scientists have also found trace amounts of amino acids in meteorites!

Featured in Science