Amino Acids

Known as the “building blocks” of proteins, amino acids play a variety of critical roles in our physiology. Their availability to body tissues has the potential to affect several clinical conditions when supply is inadequate.

Amino acids have more diverse functions than any other nutrient group. They are a factor in nearly every chemical process that affects physical, mental, and emotional function. When amino acid supply is inadequate to meet tissue demand, important body functions suffer, resulting in the appearance of signs and symptoms. These signals from the body can be wide ranging-from immune system effects to cardiovascular disease to emotional disorders and more.

Unlike plants that can produce all 20, humans can only produce 10 of the 20 amino acids. The 10 amino acids that we can produce are alanine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine and tyrosine.The others are considered essential and must be supplied in food. Essential amino acids are arginine (required for the young, but not for adults), histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.  Failure to obtain enough of even 1 of the 10 essential amino acids, those that we cannot make, results in degradation of the body’s proteins, including muscle. Unlike fat and starch, the human body does not store excess amino acids for later use so amino acids must be consumed every day.

Consuming a diet rich in protein has the potential to provide amino acids for use in your body. However amino acid deficiency can affect many individuals, not just vegetarians as most may think. There are many factors which affect your body’s ability to break down protein efficiently and provide tissues with these much needed amino acid nutrients. Some of these factors include poor digestive function, improper use of medications such as antacids or acid blockers, increased stress responses, poor eating habits, and aging. As a result, adequate protein intake does not always ensure an optimal amino acid supply within your body.

Measurement of amino acid levels can provide valuable information about the overall status of your essential amino acid availability. There are several testing options. The metabolic profile test has a general amino acid marker and that will be low when all the amino acids are low in the body. However for specific testing, there are 2 complete amino acid panels. One is a conventional blood draw and the second is a blood spot test, both measuring either the 10 essential or all 20 amino acids.  Blood spot testing has become very popular in the recent years because it does not require the patient to see a doctor or a nurse. The test kit includes a tiny finger prick device and a special card so all the patient has to do is prick the forth finger and squeeze a few drops of blood on the card provided. The card is then mailed to the lab for testing just like whole blood.  The results can identify which specific amino acids are low and in need of repletion.

Once the results are known, we can utilize a customized amino acid formulation for every person. Recognizing your biochemical individuality is a key factor for increasing chances of therapeutic success so the evaluation of amino acids allows your treatment plan to be individualized to your unique needs.  Customized amino acid powders are individually formulated, based on your specific test results. These formulations provide appropriate amounts of essential and conditionally essential amino acids, delivered in a balanced ratio. Individualized amino acid powder consists of varying amounts of seven essential amino acids, 5-hydroxy-tryptophan (5HTP), and three conditionally essential amino acids. Two nutrients needed to ensure proper metabolism of amino acids in the liver and inside the cell are also included.

There are also general amino acid formulations such as Amino Acid Synergy from Designs for Health for people who showed low amino acids on the metabolic profile and those who have trouble getting enough proteins in their daily diet.  Amino Acid Synergy provides a mixture of essential amino in the free-form, meaning they are immediately available for absorption and can be put to metabolic use much more readily and rapidly when compared to amino acids contained in dietary protein.

When supplementing with amino acids, it is very important to remember that they should be taken on an empty stomach unlike most nutrients that are consumed with meals. This is crucial because amino acids fight for absorption with proteins found in food and they are not well absorbed unless taken on their own. I usually recommend taking them first thing in the morning or at bedtime for best results.

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