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What Happens When You Don't Get Enough Essential Amino Acids?

Amino acids are important organic compounds that you need to properly digest food, create usable energy, maintain health and generally function normally. These diverse substances are highly chemically versatile and fulfill several critical roles, such as acting as the building blocks of all forms of protein and controlling practically all cellular processes. This is why a deficiency in any of the essential amino acids can lead to various health issues and potential physical difficulties.

The Essential Amino Acids

There are 20 different amino acids that humans require for normal, healthy functioning, the University of Arizona explains. Of this number, the body naturally produces 10. The remaining 10 include arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. These are known as essential amino acids; you can obtain them only through the food you eat. Unlike other nutrients like fat and starch, you need to get these essential acids in your food every day because your body doesn’t store any excess amino acids for future use.

Growth and Developmental Problems

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Lysine is an amino acid that plays a vital role in ensuring normal growth and development. It helps your body absorb calcium, which is needed for bone health. It is also needed for the manufacture of collagen, which is required for building connective tissues such as tendons, cartilage and skin. Lysine also indirectly helps process fats into energy and lower cholesterol. Individuals who fail to get enough lysine in their diets may experience slow growth, anemia, reproductive disorders, nausea, dizziness and loss of appetite.

Increased Risk of Disease

Everyday, you are exposed to harmful free radicals. These compounds occur naturally in the body, but are also present in environmental pollution, cigarette smoke, radiation and ultraviolet light. They have been linked with several diseases including cancer and heart disease. In this regard, amino acids are important, not just for keeping your internal processes functioning optimally, but also for protecting against disease. Cysteine is particularly significant, since your body converts this into glutathione, which is a potent antioxidant that helps neutralize and prevent the cellular damage that free radicals cause. Cysteine treatment has been linked with lower incidence of angina, influenza and chronic bronchitis. Without enough cysteine, however, your susceptibility to disease is increased.

Lower Energy and Alertness

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Your body’s levels of amino acids play a big part in your ability to focus your efforts, both mentally and physically. High protein foods that contain large amounts of tyrosine, such as fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, tofu and meat, are great for boosting your energy and mental alertness, the Middle Tennessee State University explains. Tyrosine increases your body’s production of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and epinephrine, which are known to improve our capacity to mentally focus. Without sufficient amounts of tyrosine, you may start to feel fatigued more easily and less able to concentrate.

Increased Anxiety and Stress

Eating foods that are high in carbohydrates causes a release of insulin into your bloodstream. This clears out almost all amino acids in your blood except for tryptophan. Once this amino acid enters the brain, it is converted into serotonin, a neurotransmitter that reduces pain, lowers appetite and induces a feeling of calmness. Individuals who frequently don’t get enough tryptophan may be more susceptible to the negative effects of anxiety and stress. Foods high in tryptophan include milk, bananas, oats, cheese, soy, poultry and nuts.