The Building Blocks of Life - Part 2

typical amino acid protein chain

Amino acids are the basic elements of protein, and as such are the raw materials by which cells construct tissue and are intermediates of metabolism as well as for DNA replication for cell division. The simplicity of amino acids is that they all contain differing combinations of hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and sulphur molecules in a variety of shapes. Much like different shaped building blocks they can be assembled into larger and a more complex array of protein chains each of which has a specific task to accomplish.

All together there are 20 such `standard' amino acids the body uses and are divided into 10 non-essential AA and 10 essential AA. That is to say that the non-essentials can be constructed inside the body from materials at hand whilst essentials cannot be. Therefore it is imperative we receive them through our diet.

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The non-essential group consists of:

  • Alanine - required for the metabolism of glucose, tryptophan (an essential AA)and organic acids; important energy source for the brain, muscle tissue and central nervous system.
  • Asparagine - acts as a site for attachment of glycoproteins; nervous system needs asparagine to maintain its equilibrium and also in amino acid transformation.
  • Aspartate - responsible for biosynthesis of proteins.
  • Cysteine - along with methionine are the only two containing sulphur molecules, responsible for stabilizing proteins such as the digestive enzymes of the small intestine.
  • Glutamate - highly involved with neurotransmissions within the mammalian brain involving cognitive functions such as learning and memory.
  • Glutamine - crucial in the process of nitrogen metabolism.
  • Glycine - smallest of the 20 amino acids, and also a neurotransmitter within the nervous system.
  • Proline - primary builder of protein chains; not a typical `amino acid' as it does not have a hydrogen/carbon double bond.
  • Serine - storage source of glucose by the liver and muscles; provides antibodies for the immune system; synthesizes fatty acid sheaths around nerve fibres.
  • Tyrosine - promotes healthy functioning of the thyroid, adrenal and pituitary glands; improves memory and mental alertness.

The essential group consists of:

  • Arginine - responsible for optimal muscle growth; wound healing and regeneration of liver and improved immune system responses.
  • Histidine - abundant in hemoglobin. The amino acid is a precursor for histamine and carnosine (a double amino acid protein found in the brain and muscle tissue) biosynthesis.
  • Isoleucine - is a part component of ALL protein strands.
  • leucine - maintaining muscles and responsible for protein disassembly.
  • Lysine - responsible for calcium absorption; collagen (for bone cartilage and connective tissue) production;aids in the production of antibodies, enzymes and hormones.
  • Methionine - reduces liver fat and protects kidneys; supplies sulphur to prevents disorders within hair, skin and nails.
  • Phenylalanine - aids in neural transmission and helps improve memory.
  • Threonine - important constituent of collagen; helps prevent fat build up in the liver.
  • Tryptophan - helps the immune system, and works as a natural relaxant.
  • Valine -promotes mental vigour and muscle coordination.

complex protein arrangement

complex protein arrangement

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Essential Fatty Acids

Consist of omega 3, 6 and 9, the latter being non essential as it can be made in the body from unsaturated fats. Basically they are composed of long chain polyunsaturated fats derived from linolenic, linoleic and oleic acids. So therefore we have two important EFA's that we need.

EFA's support the cardiovascular, reproductive, immune and central nervous system, plus maintenance of the cells membranes. Unlike the trans or saturated fats EFA's benefit us in raising the HDL (high density lipoproteins) or `good cholesterol' which transports LDL (low density lipoproteins) to the liver to be broken down and excreted.A primary function of EFA's is to produce prostaglandins (lipid compounds produced on the prostate gland)

  • Omega-3 [linolenic acid] - used for construction and maintenance of cell walls and improving circulation and oxygen metabolisation.

  • Omega-6 [linoleic acid] - with the correct balance of nutrition our bodies can convert linoleic acid into the much needed GLA (gamma linolenic acid) which improves conditions such as skin disorders (e.g. psoriasis and eczema) and diabetic neuropathy.

omega chart

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