The bulk of your diet comes from three major macronutrients -- proteins, carbohydrates and fats. While fats and carbohydrates serve as major sources of energy, protein serves as a source of amino acids. You need several grams of amino acids daily to maintain your health, because they play essential roles in tissue maintenance and function. However, over-consuming protein can negatively affect your health, and too many amino acids can pose a threat.
Benefits for Cell Function and Tissue Maintaince
One of the major benefits of consuming amino acids is that your cells can re-assemble them into new proteins important for maintaining your tissues and supporting continued cell function. Some of these proteins provide structural support for your cells to prevent them from collapsing, while others allow for cell migration and aid in cell development. Another class of proteins, called enzymes, help your cells perform chemical reactions. Making enzymes allows for digestion, supports your metabolism and promotes cell communication.
Amino acids also benefit your health independent of their ability to make protein. Your brain can use some amino acids to make neurotransmitters, a family of chemicals involved in brain cell communication. Amino acids help you make dopamine and norepinephrine, two types of neurotransmitters that promote alertness. Your body also uses amino acids to make melanin, the pigment that gives your skin and hair their color. Melanin synthesis plays a key role in your health, because it protects your tissues from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays.
Amino acids do come with some possible drawbacks. High protein intake can increase your risk of dehydration, explains the University of Connecticut, so make sure you drink plenty of fluids if you increase your amino acid consumption. A high-protein diet might also pose a health risk for your kidneys, because your kidneys must excrete toxic byproducts created by breaking down protein during digestion. The Institute of Medicine reports that animals fed a high-protein diet suffer kidney damage. However, the Indiana University School of Medicine notes that a high-protein diet proves safe for healthy individuals, and might only pose a risk to those suffering from pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes or kidney disease.
If you're like most Americans, you already consume enough amino acids to maintain your health. In general, you need 0.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight, according to guidelines presented by Iowa State University. This translates into 54 grams of protein daily for a 135-pound individual, and 72 or 84 grams of protein for a 180- or 210-pound individual, respectively. If you perform intense physical activity, such as strenuous endurance or strength training, you might require up to double this amount of protein. Consult a health care professional to develop a meal plan that provides all the amino acids you need for good health.
- McKinley Health Center: Macronutrients: the Importance of Carbohydrate, Protein, and Fat
- Iowa State University Extension: Protein
- Franklin Institute: The Human Brain -- Proteins
- The National Academies Press: The Role of Protein and Amino Acids in Sustaining and Enhancing Performance
- University of Connecticut: Too Much Protein Can Lead to Dehydration, Researchers Find
- Indiana University School of Medicine: Is it Safe for the Kidney? Low-Carb, High-Protein Versus Low-Fat Diets
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Tyrosine
Sylvie Tremblay holds a Master of Science in molecular and cellular biology and has years of experience as a cancer researcher and neuroscientist. Based in Ontario, Canada, Tremblay is an experienced journalist and blogger specializing in nutrition, fitness, lifestyle, health and biotechnology, as well as real estate, agriculture and clean tech.