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Amino acids: which and why?

Our body is able to produce proteins, e.g. to build muscle tissue. However, proteins are essential in all other organs and tissues, for example to produce proteins such as haemoglobin, albumin, immune globulins, collagen, cartilages and other substances essential to our lives, as neurotransmitters, and they all require a large supply of amino acids (AAs). AAs availability influences cellular metabolism and also affects energy production through the Krebs cycle.

Mammals get energy from macronutrients such as proteins, carbohydrates and lipids. While carbohydrates and lipids contain carbon, oxygen and hydrogen, only proteins contain nitrogen. with the noticeable exception of some peculiar fatty acids therefore called “indispensable” fatty acids. The fact that carbohydrates and most of the lipids can be synthesized from proteins is evidence of their importance in the sustaining of vital functions.

The ultimate fate of all nutrients, if they are not used for energy, is to be processed into glucose and stored as glycogen, or transformed into lipids, and stored as triglycerides mainly in adipose tissue.

The ultimate fate of all nutrients, if they are not used for energy, is to be processed into glucose and stored as glycogen, or transformed into lipids, and stored as triglycerides mainly in adipose tissue.

Il ciclo di Crebs

The citric acid cycle (or Krebs cycle) is the center stage of the main metabolic pathways for energy production (glycolysis and oxidation of fatty acids). With optimal oxygen and glucose utilization conditions, the substrates for the citric acid cycle come mainly from glycolysis. Instead, in case of less than optimal utilization of glucose, the substrates for the production of energy come incrementally from both the oxidation of cytoplasmic fatty acids and from amino acid catabolism.
An increase in the consumption of amino acids in the citric acid cycle, if not accompanied by the adequate intake, can lead to muscle wasting and cachexia.

If the amino acids provide a balanced ratio between the glucose precursors and acetate, glucose completes oxidation, reducing the use of free fatty acids for energy production. The availability of amino acids must also be enough to maintain efficient protein synthesis, thus antagonizing the catabolism and promoting cell protein production.

Recent findings have shown that supplementing specific mixtures of amino acids improves the clinical outlook of patients with diabetes mellitus, renal insufficiency, chronic heart failure, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), trauma with loss of mobility and skin lesions, sarcopenia and cachexia.

Specific blends of essential and non-essential amino acids have shown to reactivate protein synthesis in the liver, heart and muscles. This aspect is very important particularly in people of advanced age, characterized by mitochondrial function loss resulting in reduced energy production and increased production of free radicals.

Gli amminoacidi

  • ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS The nine essential amino acids (EAAs) are named “essential” because they need to be introduced with the diet. In fact, every organ of the human body is unable to synthesize them, but from them all the other types can be made, and this is the reason why these latter are called non-essential amino acids.
  • “CONDITIONALLY – ESSENTIAL” AMINO ACIDS The EAAs cannot be synthesized by any organ of our body, except in negligible quantities. However, some amino acids are essential to all organs, except for the liver. The liver is the only organ able to synthesize them starting from the EAAs. One example is tyrosine which can be synthesized from phenylalanine practically only in the liver, but it remains an EAA to all other organs (i.e. heart, muscles, etc.). Two non-essential amino acids (NEAAs), arginine and glutamine, can become deficient in terms of reduced supplementation with EAA. In this case, they become conditional for life, because they are indispensable amino acids to activities and functions of some cells in the organism. However, their supplementation in many conditions related to metabolic deficiency creates more problems than advantages. As an alternative, helping your metabolism to produce them supported by an increased amount of EAAs is definitely the most useful and efficient solution.
    See also: “Clinical use of amino acids as dietary supplements: pros and cons”
  • NON-ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS (NEAAs) Non-essential amino acids are introduced entirely through diet but can also be formed in cells always starting from essential ones, which must also be present for this purpose.

Clinical Nutrition

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Not all commercial mixtures are the same!

The optimum mixture must contain all essential amino acids, but respect the correct stoichiometric ratio among them. This means giving a percentage to each EAA needed to reflect the right quantitative ratio between amino acids, exactly how to spell “word” means placing the right letters in the right place (w, o, r, d).

Proteine o aminoacidi?

La prima osservazione che dobbiamo fare è che la sintesi delle proteine richiede un notevole dispendio energetico e gli aminoacidi essenziali sono indispensabili a promuoverne la sintesi e controllano il metabolismo proteico ed energetico. Durante la malattia il corpo ha un aumentato fabbisogno di aminoacidi essenziali, che saranno utilizzati sia nella sintesi sia nel metabolismo per mantenere la produzione energetica.

Si deve fare molta attenzione a distinguere il ruolo metabolico delle proteine da quello degli aminoacidi. Le proteine alimentari hanno un contenuto fisso di aminoacidi, in cui gli aminoacidi non essenziali sono sempre prevalenti rispetto agli aminoacidi essenziali. Per questo l’eccesso di proteine, che contengono quote eccessive di aminoacidi non essenziali, sovraccaricano il rene in quanto i loro prodotti metabolici vanno eliminati tramite le urine.

Conclusioni: perché assumere aminoacidi essenziali?

Because in proteins normally introduced through diet EAAs are not present in sufficient quantities to fully match the human needs and not in the qualitative ratios of EAAs useful to make it efficient. In a normal diet we introduce too few essential, and not of the quality we need! Moreover, it is useful to bear in mind that with ageing the need and usefulness of EEAs increase as well as the damage caused from excess of non-essential amino acids in dietary protein.