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What are Amino Acids?

By David White
Updated May 21, 2024
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Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. They band together in chains to form the stuff from which life is born. This is a two-step process: first, they get together and form peptides or polypeptides, and it is from these groupings that proteins are made.

A total of 20 different kinds 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 those — 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 they must be ingested through food.

One of the best-known essential amino acids is tryptophan, which performs several critical functions for people. It helps induce normal sleep; helps reduce anxiety, depression, and artery spasm risk; and helps produce a stronger immune system. Tryptophan is perhaps most well-known for its role in producing serotonin, which is what gets all the press at Thanksgiving time for putting people to sleep after the big holiday feast.

Amino acids make up 75% of the human body. They are essential to nearly every bodily function, and every chemical reaction that takes place in the body depends on them and the proteins that they build.

The essential amino acids must be ingested every day. Failure to get enough of even one of them can result in protein degradation, because the human body does not store them for later use, as it does with fats and starches. Amino acids can be found in many places in nature, and more than 300 have been found in the natural world from such diverse sources as microorganisms and meteorites.

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Discussion Comments
By anon287685 — On Aug 27, 2012

I have tried to take amino acids and they always make me feel awful. Is there an explanation for this?

By anon258784 — On Apr 03, 2012

I am 54 years old. Can I take superior amino 2222 tabs?

By anon247464 — On Feb 13, 2012

Taking amino acid supplements might really help. Thanks for this info.

By anon226973 — On Nov 03, 2011

There is a new food supplement called Laminine that has all 22 amino acids and is clinically tested to reduce symptoms of depression and many other benefits.

By anon200035 — On Jul 25, 2011

aribson amino can help to build muscle.

By efp5640 — On Jan 24, 2011

I'm a woman on weight watchers trying to get rid of 30 pounds. I take aminos, fish oil, b-complex. Every year I have my blood checked (fasting)and my cholesterol and triglycerides have dropped 30 points. I feel great and full of energy, thanks to the combo of vitamins.

By anon138764 — On Jan 02, 2011

When I feel a fever blister/cold sore coming on I start taking L-Lysine 500mg tablets. When I feel the fever blister I take two tablets and take one before going to bed or one the following morning (whichever comes first). Most of the time the soreness goes away within a couple of hours and the blister never forms

For two days, I'll take one in the morning and one at night. As a teenager I had a lot of fever blisters. Sometimes I had them on both lips, inside my mouth and nose at the same time. They were very painful. Then a friend told me to try the above. It really works for me, thank God.

By anon138370 — On Dec 31, 2010

What amino acids help lower cholesterol?

By anon105620 — On Aug 21, 2010

Is it safe to take Cardio Renew. I am 65 years old healthy but a little high blood pressure.

By lwb357 — On Jul 08, 2010

l-arginine is an amino acid. Amino acids are the basic building blocks of proteins. The best protein sources contain complete amino acid profiles.

As a general rule, plant sources do not contain complete amino acid profiles whereas meat poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products do.

Sorry to disappoint, but you cannot take enough arginine to realistically affect your NO levels.

By anon94187 — On Jul 07, 2010

I am taking a food supplement containing l-arginine that thereafter converts to nitric oxide and has been proven to have great health benefits for the cardiovascular system plus many more health benefits. can you tell me how the l-arginine is produced in the first place? is it taken from vegetables?

By anon86448 — On May 25, 2010

I took one 500 mg L-lysine tablet brand Natures own which actually says to take two daily on the bottle. The reason being, I was told this would help with a recurring cold sore on my butt. after nine days I broke out in hives. So then I had to take antihistamine tablets to get rid of the hives. Please explain why this occurred.

By aray15 — On May 17, 2010

Amino acids are used in perfume and flavor manufacturing through esters? How are lysine and theonine used?

By anon73955 — On Mar 30, 2010

I heard that L-Lysine helps with Rosacea so I tried 1000 mg in the morning and 100 at night. It has really helped! try it.

By anon66300 — On Feb 18, 2010

when should i take amino acids -- before or after my intense workout ?

By anon59064 — On Jan 06, 2010

Which are 10 essential types of amino acids in case of microorganisms?

By anon57130 — On Dec 20, 2009

are amino acids found outside living things?

By anon56470 — On Dec 15, 2009

What does make sugar? (By amino acids )

By anon54278 — On Nov 29, 2009

I have been taking MHP A Bomb aminos which have done wonders for my muscle gain, but i also take protein shakes and creatine.

Since being on the aminos my strength and size have doubled, although it's causing me to get acne which i haven't had since i was 18 and i'm now 29.

By anon50256 — On Oct 27, 2009

what would cause a 78 year old man to have super high amino acid in his system?

By lwb357 — On Sep 11, 2009

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Every time you eat a protein source whether it is steak, eggs, dairy, peanut butter or beans, you are getting amino acids. Additionally, your body manufactures some amino acids.

So, it is impossible to have no amino acids in your system. However, rosacea may be caused by a specific amino acid being to low or your body's inability to make one amino acid from another amino acid. If that is the case, then we need to know which specific amino acid may be causing the problem.

By anon44902 — On Sep 11, 2009

I read an article that stated amino acid was a cure for rosacea because the cause of rosacea has shown that they do not have amino acids in their system. Do you have an answer to this statement. Thank You.

By anon44097 — On Sep 04, 2009

Will I gain mass if I take nitric oxide? I have heard that if you take amino acids the amino acids become nitric oxide, so would i be cutting out the middle man by just taking a nitric oxide supplement?

By lwb357 — On Aug 27, 2009

14 5HTP might help. Do some research on it.

15 I have been using protein shakes for 34 years and creatine for at least 8 and I've never had effects similar to roid rage.

By anon43010 — On Aug 25, 2009

Everyday before i go to the gym i have some creatine powder and a protein shake and another shake after. Can you get any bad side effects similar to roid rage? Lately i have been feeling on edge and getting angry very easily.

By anon42955 — On Aug 24, 2009

I want to arrest a three year bout with shingles (PHN). Would amino acids help with the pain and depression?

By anon42681 — On Aug 23, 2009

I need to see the structure of a plant and its cells.

By anon35815 — On Jul 07, 2009

so if you take amino acid capsules what would happen? (such as 2 per day)

By anon35318 — On Jul 04, 2009

i've been trying to gain all my life. would takin amino acid capsules help??

By norbert123 — On Mar 05, 2009

can i take natural amino acid capsules as well as creatine capsules?

By lwb357 — On Nov 08, 2008

Amino acids are proteins, so they are safe for diabetics to take.

By anon16405 — On Aug 05, 2008

hi, i am wondering about getting some amino tablets for body building, but i am diabetic, would they be all right? thanks.

By lamaestra — On Nov 29, 2007

There are 20 different kinds of *standard* amino acids that form proteins. They are alanine, arginine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, proline, serine, treonine, tryptophan, tyrosine, valine. However, hundreds of *non-protein* forming amino acids have been found in nature.

By anon5538 — On Nov 29, 2007

Why do you state there are 20 amino acids and then state there are 300?

By lamaestra — On Nov 29, 2007

Essential fatty acids and amino acids are two different things. Fatty acids are the basic building blocks of fats (or lipids) while amino acids are the building blocks of proteins.

By twoknow — On Aug 22, 2007

are essential fatty acids amino acids?

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