The human body needs and uses 22 amino acids as its building blocks for everything from making cells and maintaining tissue to producing hormones, enzymes and neurotransmitters. These 22 amino acids can reassemble themselves to create over 50,000 different protein combinations.
There are two types of amino acids, essential and non-essential. The essential amino acids are obtained from eating proteins in food (protein itself is comprised of amino acids), and the non-essential amino acids can be manufactured by the body. A diet lacking in even one of these amino acids can be detrimental to one's health. Stress, infection, trauma, age and some medications may also put one's amino acids out of balance.
Scientists are only just beginning to understand how these chemical compounds work and whether or not amino acid supplements can be beneficial for certain conditions. Here are some amino acids that seem therapeutically promising.
Arginine may stimulate the immune system, help heal wounds, slow cancer growth and improve heart conditions.
Carnitine may improve heart function, help lower cholesterol and help with symptoms of Alzheimer's.
Creatine may be effective for helping body-builders bulk up their muscles.
Cysteine, best absorbed in the form of N-acetyl-L-cysteine, may help the liver flush toxins and pollutants from the body.
Tryptophan helps make serotonin and melatonin, which affect mood and sleep. Try eating tryptophan-rich foods like turkey, milk or avocados next time you suffer from insomnia. 5-HTP is a form of tryptophan that may also help in this department.
Note, people with kidney problems, diabetes or PKU need to be cautious about adding certain proteins and amino acids to their diets. As always, consult your physician, nutritionalist or holistic practitioner before taking any supplements.