Essential Amino Acids and Their Role in Good Health

Amino Acids You Must Add To Your Diet

Histidine molecule
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An essential amino acid may also be called an indispensable amino acid. This is an amino acid that the body cannot synthesize on its own, so it must be obtained from the diet. Because each organism has its own physiology, the list of essential amino acids is different for humans than it is for other organisms.

The Role of Amino Acids for Human Beings

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, which are essential to forming our muscles, tissues, organs, and glands. They also support human metabolism, protect the heart, and make it possible for our bodies to heal wounds and repair tissues. Amino acids are also essential for breaking down foods and removing waste from our bodies.

  • Tryptophan and tyrosine are amino acids that produce neurotransmitters. Tryptophan produces the mood-regulating chemical serotonin and can make you sleepy. Tyrosine is essential for the production of norepinephrine and adrenaline and makes you feel more energetic.
  • The amino acid arginine is essential to the production of nitric oxide which lowers blood pressure and helps to protect the heart.
  • Histidine makes the enzymes needed to produce red blood cells and healthy nerves. ]
  • Tyrosine is used in the production of thyroid hormones.
  • Methionine makes a chemical called SAMe which is essential for the metabolism of DNA and neurotransmitters.

Nutrition and Essential Amino Acids

Because they cannot be produced by the body, essential amino acids must be part of everyone's diet. It isn't critical that every essential amino acid be included in every meal, but over the course of a single day, it's a good idea to eat foods that include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.

The best way to ensure that you are eating a sufficient quantity of foods with amino acids is to complete proteins. These include animal products including eggs, buckwheat, soybeans, and quinoa. Even if you don't specifically consume complete proteins, you can eat a variety of proteins throughout the day to ensure that you have enough essential amino acids. The recommended dietary allowance of protein is 46 grams daily for women and 56 grams for men. 

Essential Versus Conditionally Essential Amino Acids

The essential amino acids for all people are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. Several other amino acids are conditionally essential amino acids, meaning they are required at some stages of growth or by some people who cannot synthesize them, either because of genetics or a medical condition.

In addition to the essential amino acids, babies and growing children also need arginine, cysteine, and tyrosine. Individuals with phenylketonuria (PKU) need tyrosine and also must limit their intake of phenylalanine. Certain populations need arginine, cysteine, glycine, glutamine, histidine, proline, serine and tyrosine because they either cannot synthesize them at all or else are unable to make enough to meet the needs of their metabolism.

List of Essential Amino Acids

Essential Amino Acids Non-Essential Amino Acids
histidine alanine
isoleucine arginine*
leucine aspartic acid
lysine cysteine*
methionine glutamic acid
phenylalanine glutamine*
threonine glycine*
tryptophan proline*
valine serine*
*conditionally essential
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Your Citation
Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Essential Amino Acids and Their Role in Good Health." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2020, August 27). Essential Amino Acids and Their Role in Good Health. Retrieved from Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Essential Amino Acids and Their Role in Good Health." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).