The human body needs at least 20 amino acids for a variety of functions in the body. These functions include building and repairing muscle and tissue, forming antibodies that help fight bacteria and viruses, carrying oxygen throughout the body, building nucleoproteins, and facilitating muscle activity among other functions.
Protein is broken down to create 22 known amino acids, which are then separated into two main groups; essential and nonessential. Essential amino acids are those that the body cannot manufacture naturally, and nonessential are naturally manufactured when one consumes the right combination of nutrients. They are classified in the following manner.
Essential Amino Acids
Nonessential Amino Acids
- Glutamic acid
- Aspartic acid
Each has distinct characteristics which give it a special role in the protein structure. The main feature that distinguish them from another is its unique side chain and the resultant chemical property. Many essential amino acids are useful in digestion, the breakdown of food (saliva), and the immune system.
Branched-chain acids are essential in the treatment of brain disease caused by liver failure such as chronic hepatic encephalopathy and even kidney failure in cancer patients. They are also used to manage muscle wastage for people who are confined to bed.
Muscle loss can occur on the molecular level due to catabolism (protein breakdown) through a process that uses amino acids to generate fuel. In mild conditions, protein synthesis slows down as a natural response as the body adjusts to reduced energy intake.
Strict vegetarianism and malnutrition (or an insufficient caloric diet) can cause the body to break down protein stored in muscle tissue and use these to supply the deficit in specific organs – and in some cases one will fail to create new muscle mass despite intense exercise.