More than a dozen amino acids are needed by the body for growth, repair and maintenance. Each amino acid serves important functions aside from fulfilling its primary role of being protein’s building blocks. Amino acids combine with each other to form 3-dimensional structures characteristic of proteins. As the primary structures of protein, amino acids then participate in a multitude of body processes such reproduction of genes to digestion.

There are however, non-essential and essential amino acids that one should be familiar with. The list of essential amino acids includes phenylalanine, valine, trytophan, threonine, isoleucine, methionine, histidine, arginine, leucine and lysine.

They are listed as essential amino acids as they are neither manufactured nor stored by the body and thus should be present in the daily diet. The human body cannot make these amino acids using its own processes. Also, any excess of essential amino acids are not stored for later use, hence emphasizing the importance of regular intake. Dangers arise as these essential
amino acids listed above become absent or no longer regularly obtained. Degradation of tissues such as those of muscle or nerve tissues commonly occurs. Other body processes such as those involving enzymes are slowed or if not, altogether stopped. Furthermore, disease states are often attributed to complete or partial absence of any of the essential amino acids listed previously.

Phenylketonuria is caused by a lack of phenylalanine and it constitutes a significant problem commonly encountered among children. Mental retardation, inability to walk or talk, seizures and failure to grow are some of the common characteristics found in

children with the disease. Prenatal diagnosis and screening programs now identify those at risk for this disease. Maple syrup urine disease, so-called because of the “sweet urine,” is caused by a deficiency of three listed essential amino acids, isoleucine, leucine and valine. Histidine is the amino acid precursor of histamine, an important chemical messenger that is responsible for the body’s reaction during allergic or inflammatory processes. It wouldn’t be possible to mention all of the roles essential amino acids listed above portray in the processes of the body. Thus, it is vital to recall that these essential amino acids are neither produced nor kept by the body. It is then important to remember the list of essential amino acids mentioned above when
purchasing foods. Essential amino acids are easily obtained from fish, meat, poultry and dairy products. These foods provide the most abundant sources. Plant foods, particularly beans, supply other essential amino acids like lysine which is less found in meat products.