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Amino Acids: The Basic Building Blocks

The word "protein" was coined in 1828 from the Greek, meaning "to come first" as evidence of the importance of this substance for the function and replacement of the body's cells.

Amino Acids are the building blocks from which proteins are made. There are 24 so far identified and they can be linked together to form more than 50,000 different proteins. The body continuously breaks down the proteins eaten into amino-acid complexes and free amino acids, which it then recombines to form whatever proteins it needs to maintain itself. Amino acids supply the raw materials for maintaining the genetic code (DNA), repairing damaged muscle tissue, for cell division, making enzymes, building new connective tissue, and making hormones and neurotransmittors. (Co-factors: Niacin, B6, B12, C, zinc, selenium.)

Eight of the amino acids have traditionally been regarded as "essential" because the body is unable to manufacture them for itself, and they therefore have to be taken in through the food we eat. Having made this distinction below, it should perhaps be noted that recent research tends to the view that it is an oversimplification, and that for optimal health the body should be able to derive all its amino requirements from food.

Not all protein foods contain the same balance of amino acids. Protein foods of animal origin are regarded as "complete" protein because they contain all the amino acids in an approximately ideal balance. Eggs in particular provide protein that is biologically complete. Vegetable sources vary in their balance of aminos, and for this reason it is advisable for vegetarians to plan their meals to get the same kind of balance - eg using sesame seeds with soybeans to combine metabolically into high grade protein.

See table for comparative content of essential amino acids in some vegetable protein sources.

"Essential" Amino Acids

Isoleucine: Needed in haemoglobin formation.
Note: There are very limited amounts in beef.

Leucine: Found to be lacking in drug addicts and alcoholics.

Lysine: Deficiency may cause nausea and anaemia. Growth hormone releaser (GHR). Increased intake helps prevent the herpes virus from multiplying. Since the early 1950's research has been carried out into the effects of L-lysine in suppressing the symptoms of the common cold sore. It has been established that Lysine inhibits the growth of the herpes simplex virus, relieving the symptoms and promoting healing of existing sores. Works even better in conjunction with Vit C. Co-factors: Vit C, zinc, betacarotene, Vits B3 and B6, magnesium.
Note: Dry heating of protein destroys much of its lysine. In addition, the following foods are antagonistic to Lysine in the body: chocolate, carob, nuts, rice, wheat, seeds and legumes.

Methionine: A constituent of haemoglobin, tissues and serum. Sulphur-based: important antioxidant and free-radical scavenging function. Helps body to use selenium. Essential for activity of spleen, liver and pancreas. Can be substituted for choline, which aids in reducing fat in the liver and protects the kidneys. Lack of methionine results in negative nitrogen balance ie kidneys not excreting urine as they should. Natural chelating agent for heavy metals. Aids in producing beautiful skin. Helps break down calcium plaques.

Phenylalanine: One of the functions of this amino appears to be in the relief of pain. The body's pain relief system is based in the brain, which produces hormone-like substances akin to morphine, called endorphins when pain signals reach the brain. Phenylalanine extends the lifespan of these substances in the nervous system. Note: Cannot be metabolised if a person is deficient in vitamin C. Congenital deficiency of phenylalanine hydroxylase causes inadequate formation of tyrosine and decreased serum phenylalanine in babies produces brain damage resulting in severe mental retardation. Also results in melanin deficiency, predisposing to skin diseases such as eczema.
Note: Given with caution in cases of high blood pressure.

Threonine: Prevents the accumulation of fat in the liver.

Tryptophan: Provides niacin, which prevents pellagra and mental deficiency. Tryptophan is better for depression than for energy. Deficiency causes insomnia. Growth hormone releaser (GHR). When taken with B3 and C is converted into serotonin, a GHR neurotransmitter.
Note: Not usually given to pregnant or lactating women. Best taken at night.

Valine: Deficiency results in negative nitrogen balance in the body.

"Non-Essential" Amino Acids

Arginine: Helps increase sperm count. Growth hormone releaser (GHR). Has strengthening effect on the immune system, improving response to bacteria, viruses and tumour cells, and increasing the weight of the thymus gland - the master gland of immunity - and increasing T-cell production. Now tends to be regarded as an essential as body needs more than it can produce. Promotes detoxification of ammonia. Helpful in treating liver disease and wound healing.
Note: Not usually given to schizophrenics, or pregnant or lactating women.

Cysteine: The youth connection. The most important sulphur-based amino. Vital antioxidant and free-radical scavenging function. Occurs in concentration in hair and nails and is important in keeping skin smooth and young-looking, and helping it recover from damage. Aids in producing beautiful skin. Helps break down calcium plaques. Natural chelating agent for heavy metals. Is a central component of the body's important anti-oxidant enzyme glutathione peroxidase. Synthesized in the body from methionine.
Note: Should not be given as supplement to diabetics as it can inactivate insulin. If taken in large doses should be accompanied by 3x dose of C to avoid kidney and bladder stones.

Tyrosine:Precursor of catecholamines, and of importance in regulating emotional behaviour. Important in the eventual synthesis of the hormone thyroxine, thus aiding prevention of hypothyroidism, cretinism and myxoedema. Growth hormone releaser (GHR). Used to manufacture neurotransmitters which can be powerful determinants of moods, brain functions and emotional drives. Synthesized in the body from phenylalanine. It is reported that it may assist those on weight-loss diets. It is involved in a number of glandular functions and hence may assist in controlling appetite and speeding up metabolism. It appears to have a function in the burning up of fat and in stimulating muscle growth.
Note: Best taken in the morning.

Taurine: Sulphur-based: important antioxidant and free-radical scavenging function. Helps stabilize membrane excitability of the heart, skeletal muscles and central nervous system, all of which contain taurine in high concentrations. Has been used to lower blood pressure in people with essential hypertension and also as an effective treatment for epilepsy. Helps passage of calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium through cell walls. Important substance in healthy brain development and prevention of strokes. Very high concentration in human breast milk.

Histidine: Precursor of histamine. Histamine helps regulate blood pressure and gastric secretion. There are increased concentrations in haemoglobin synthesis. Has a calming effect on the nervous system; changes brain waves from beta-dominated to alpha. (Co-factors: Niacin, B6.)
Note: Take with an equal quantity of C. Not given to manic depressives or people with high levels of histamine.

Glutamine: One of the few substances that can readily cross the blood brain barrier and in the brain it is converted into Glutamic Acid, the brain's energy source. There are two functions of glutamic acid in the brain. Firstly, it acts as kindling to brain activity, igniting mind power and providing extra energy. Secondly, it protects the brain from a build-up of toxic ammonia, a by-product of protein metabolism. Ammonia is one of nature's most poisonous chemicals and a build-up can cause damage to the brain and lead to mental fatigue, confusion and inability to concentrate. Glutamine increases mental clarity and alertness, and improves the ability to learn, recall and retain information. Found to be lacking in drug addicts and alcoholics..

Glutamic Acid: Brain's energy source. May serve as an excitatory neurotransmittor. Provides gamma-aminobutyric acid.

Glycine: Growth hormone releaser (GHR). Used in the treatment of progressive muscular dystrophy and to build muscle tissue in athletes. Calming effect on the mind. Serves as an inhibitory neurotransmitter as well as helping in the healing of a swollen or infected prostate.

Ornithine: Growth hormone releaser (GHR). Has strengthening effect on the immune system, improving response to bacteria, viruses and tumour cells, and increasing the weight of the thymus gland and increase T-cell production. Not used to make structural proteins or enzymes but an excellent growth hormone stimulator because of its action on the central nervous system. Twice as effective as arginine because it can enter the mitochondria.
Note: Not usually given to schizophrenics, or pregnant or lactating women. May work better when taken alone.

Carnitine: Aids in transfer of fats and their metabolism, reduction of blood cholestrol, triglyceride levels and blood pressure. Increases endurance and may prolong life. Protects against ketosis. Synthesized in the liver from lysine and methionine in the presence of C, B6, niacin and iron.

Other Minor Aminos: Alanine, Aspartic Acid, Asparagine, Proline, Serine, Hydroglycerine, Hydroproline.

Further Notes

Collagen:The connective fibre. Collagen supports the retina, ligaments and capillaries - everything. It holds cells together. Each collagen molecule is made of 4 different amino acids or building blocks linked together by essential co-factors. The essential co-factors are Vitamin C, Zinc, Magnesium, Manganese, Copper, Iron, Silica and Vitamin E. Silica is a major constituent of collagen. Collagen is the most abundant body protein and is responsible for maintaining the integrity of ground substance and tendons, ligaments and cartilage. Collagen is destroyed during the inflammatory processes that occur in rheumatoid arthritis, periodontal disease, etc.

Correcting loss of muscle tone: GHR aminos have the ability, when taken in their free form along with C and B6 on an empty stomach, to alter the ratio of fat to muscle in the body in favour of more muscle. Also used to arrest bone-thinning tendencies of older people. GHR Aminos are - Ornithine, lysine, tryptophan, tyrosine, arginine.


Note: The above information is offered not as a prescription or in place of proper medical care, but as a report on research findings which may be of interest. In cases of sickness, the attention and care of a nutritionally aware health professional are essential.


Resources:
"Ageless Ageing" L Kenton - Century Publishing, UK.
"The Health Revolution" R Horne - Happy Landings Pty Ltd, Aust.
"Stay Alive Longer!" Lelord Kordel - Manor Books Inc, US.
"Eat Your Troubles Away" Lelord Kordel - Belmont Productions Inc, US.

Some Great Sites to Visit

Raintree Nutrition

Two Great New Zealand Sites


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