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Amino acids are the basic chemical building blocks of life, required to build all the vital proteins, hormones and enzymes required by all living organisms, from the smallest bacterium to the largest mammal. Proteins are needed to perform a host of vital functions, and can only exist when an organism has access to amino acids that can be combined into long molecular chains.
The body is continuously at work, breaking dietary proteins down into individual amino acids, and then reassembling these amino acids into new structures. In the human body, amino acids are linked together to form more than 50,000 unique proteins and 20,000 different enzymes. These proteins are used by the body to construct muscles, bones, organs, glands, connective tissues, nails and hair. Amino acids are also necessary for the manufacture of protein structures required for genes, enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters and body fluids. In the central nervous system, amino acids act as neurotransmitters and as precursors to neurotransmitters used in the brain to receive and send messages. Amino acids are also required to allow vitamins and minerals to be utilized properly.
As long as the body has a reliable source of dietary proteins containing the essential amino acids it can adequately meet most of its needs for new protein synthesis. Conversely, if the body is depleted or cut off from dietary sources of the essential amino acids, protein synthesis is affected and serious health problems can arise. Such a deficiency can occur if one eats a diet that is low in protein or suffers from a problem with digestion. Many other factors can influence the body's balance of amino acids. Among the causes that can contribute to a deficiency or imbalance in amino acids are: environmental pollution, processed foods, hormones and drugs from cattle and other meat sources, agricultural pesticides, and personal habits such as smoking and drinking.
Depending upon the structure, there are approximately twenty-nine commonly known amino acids that account for the thousands of different types of proteins present in all life forms. Many of the amino acids required to maintain human health can be produced in the liver from proteins found in our diet. These non-essential aminos are: alanine, aspartic acid, asparagine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, and serine. The remaining aminos, called the essential amino acids, must be obtained from outside sources. These essential amino acids are: arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, Iysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
Most amino acids, with the exception of glycine, can appear in two forms called the D- and L- forms. Each form is a reversed mirror image of the other. Amino acids in the L- form are the natural form of amino acids found in living plant and animal tissues, and are considered to be more compatible to human biochemistry than the D- forms. All amino acids used in human protein structures are of the L- form, with the exception of phenylalanine, which can also appear as DL-phenylalanine.