The body uses chemical substances called amino acids to build the exact type of protein it needs. There are two types of amino acids: essential and nonessential. While the body must get the essential amino acids from foods, it can manufacture the nonessential amino acids on its own if the diet is lacking them.
Of the approximately 80 amino acids found in nature, only 20 are necessary for proper human growth and function. Not only do they help make neurotransmitters (the chemicals that convey messages in the brain) they also help produce hormones such as insulin, enzymes that activate bodily functions, and certain types of body fluids. In addition, they are essential for the repair and maintenance of organs, glands, muscles, tendons, ligaments, skin, hair, and nails.
An amino acid deficiency is usually caused by a diet that is low in protein. A blood test can detect a deficiency, which can be corrected by taking amino acid supplements. Certain amino acids taken in supplement form may aid in fighting heart disease, lowering blood pressure, protecting against stroke, and alleviating intermittent claudication (a type of leg pain caused by blocked arteries in the legs). They may also help reduce sugar cravings and building immunity. Look for amino acid supplements prefaced by the letter L (such as L-arginine). These are more similar to the amino acids in the body than are amino acid supplements prefaced by the letter D. (One exception is DL-phenylalanine, which treats chronic pain.) The essential amino acids are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, cysteine, phenylalanine, tyrosine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. The nonessential amino acids are alanine, aspartic acid, arginine, citrulline, glutamic acid, glycine, hydroxyglumatic acid, hydroxyproline, norleucine, proline, and serine.
- There are no known drug or nutrient interactions associated with the use of amino acids.
- Arginine can trigger outbreaks of genital herpes or cold sores.
- Don’t drink milk at the same time you take lysine.
- Avoid higher than recommended doses; certain amino acids can be toxic in excessive amounts, causing nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
- Take amino acid supplements at least 1/2 hour before or after a meal; taking them when the stomach is empty eliminates the possibility that they will compete with the amino acids in high-protein foods.
- If you take an individual amino acid supplement for longer than one month, take it with an amino acid complex that contains a variety of amino acids. This will ensure that you get a proper balance of all the amino acids. To be safe, never take individual amino acid supplements for longer than three months unless you are under the direction of a doctor familiar with their use.