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Amino acids are complex organic chemical compounds that combine with nitrogen to create proteins. They are defined as any molecule that contains both amino and carboxylic acid functional groups. There are 28 amino acids recognized by science, second only to water; by volume, they are the most common type of chemical in the human body. Commonly known as the building blocks of proteins, every type of plant and animal cell depends on amino acids for survival. Benefits of amino acids include elevated energy levels, the repair of organ tissues, growth of healthy hair, and the production of insulin.
Foods and dietary supplements containing amino acids have been proven to provide a number of benefits, including elevating energy levels and decreasing the risk of a variety of cardiovascular diseases. Amino acids are also essential for the development and repair of muscle and organ tissue, the production of hormones, such as insulin and adrenaline, as well as enzymes, neurotransmitters, and essential body fluids, such as lymph and saliva. Other benefits of amino acids include the growth of healthy hair, skin, teeth, and nails, and they help in the body’s ability to generate antibodies to fight infection. They are critical in maintaining tissue development and repair, overall growth, and metabolic functions. Taking amino acids also promotes healthy sleep patterns, detoxification, glucose balance, and bolsters the immune system — all benefits of amino acids.
Amino acids are categorized as either essential amino acids — those that you must ingest through diet — and non-essential amino acids — those that the body produces on its own. There are nine essential amino acids: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Essential amino acids can be found in a wide range of food sources, including beef, poultry, pork, fish, and eggs.
The term non-essential amino acids is often considered misleading by physicians and nutritionists because these compounds are extremely important across a wide range of biological functions. Although the body produces these on its own, the presence of essential amino acids is required for the production of non-essential amino acids. In this way, even non-essential amino acids can be indirectly influenced by diet and provide the overall benefits of amino acids.
When foods containing proteins are digested, the body metabolizes those proteins to produce amino acids. In turn, these amino acids are used in generating the multitude of cell types and chemical compounds. Maintenance of proper levels of amino acids is one of the reasons that maintaining a balanced diet, as prescribed by the United States National Institute of Health (NIH), typically is important to overall health and fitness.