Essential Amino Acids vs. Non Essential Amino Acids

Posted by Tom Macek on

What are amino acids?

Amino acids are the simple units that make up proteins. We absorb amino acids from food so that our bodies can synthesize functional proteins (enzymes), structural proteins (cell membrane proteins), and carrier proteins etc. Proteins are essential for growth and tissue repair as well as development. They also help the body to produce antibodies and insulin. There are only 20 amino acids but the body can generate many thousands of unique proteins that have their own different functions. There are two main types of amino acids: nonessential and essential.

Non-essential amino acids

Of the 20 amino acids, there are 11 which are synthesized by our body. This means that while they are an integral part of creating proteins, they do not need to be included in your everyday diet. Hence, they are non-essential to your diet. There are “conditional” amino acids which are 8 of these non-essential amino acids. These are amino acids that the body may be incapable of producing when it is undergoing stress or illness.

Essential amino acids

The essential acids are the eight amino acids that your body is incapable of creating on its own. Hence, they are an essential part of your diet. The body does not store up a supply of these essential acids. Instead, they are used to create new proteins all the time. Therefore, in order to stay, your body needs a daily supply of these amino acids from your diet. These essential 8 amino acids are valine, lysine, tryptophan, leucine, phenylalanine, threonine, isoleucine, and methionine. There is a ninth essential amino acid, histidine, which is necessary only for babies.

Why are these essential amino acids important?

  • Leucine and isoleucine

  • Leucine is the essential amino acid that increases muscle mass and also aids the muscle to recover after exercise. Along with isoleucine, it is part of the three branch chained amino acids that form a third of your muscle tissue. Leucine supplies the body with energy and also regulates blood. Isoleucine is a critical part of hemoglobin.

  • Phenylalanine

  • Phenylalanine has three forms: L-phenylalanine, D-phenylalanine and DL-phenylalanine. Phenylalanine is integral to the production of chemicals in the brain and is a precursor to catecholamine.

  • Threonine

  • Threonine is needed for the production of collagen, tooth enamel and elastin. It is also needed for production antibodies and helps the body stabilize blood sugar.

  • Lysine

  • Lysine enables the production of carnitine and the formation of collagen. It is also needed for absorption of calcium in the intestine.

  • Methionine

  • Methionine aids in the production of Sulphur which is essential for healthy metabolism. It is also used in collagen formation and help the liver to metabolize fats.

  • Valine

  • This amino acid is necessary for the metabolism of muscle. It is critical in the repair of tissue and blood sugar regulation.

  • Tryptophan

  • The main function of Tryptophan is to produce serotonin which is a brain chemical that regulates moods. Serotonin deficiency can lead to anxiety and depression.  



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