Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. They unite in chains to form the matter from which life is born. This is a two-step process: first, they come together and form peptides or polypeptides, and it is from these groupings that proteins are made.
A total of 20 different types of amino acids form proteins, with the types involved determining the shape of the proteins formed. Commonly recognized ones include glutamine, glycine, phenylalanine, tryptophan and valine. Three of them – phenylalanine, tryptophan and valine – are essential amino acids for humans; the others are isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, and threonine. This type cannot be synthesized by the body, so it must be ingested through food.
One of the most well-known essential amino acids is tryptophan, which performs several critical functions for people. Helps induce normal sleep; helps reduce the risk of anxiety, depression and arterial spasm; and helps produce a stronger immune system. Tryptophan is perhaps best known for its role in the production of serotonin, which is what gets all the press around Thanksgiving time for putting people to sleep after the big holiday feast.
Amino acids make up 75% of the human body. They are essential for almost every bodily function, and every chemical reaction that takes place in the body is dependent on them and the proteins they build.
Essential amino acids must be ingested every day. Failing to get enough of one of these can result in protein breakdown, because the human body does not store them for later use like fats and starches do. Amino acids can be found in many places in nature, and over 300 have been found in the natural world from sources as diverse as microorganisms and meteorites.