The essential amino acids under the magnifying glass

Food supplements

Focus on essential amino acids

There are 20 amino acids that the body uses for muscle building and various metabolic processes. Among them, 9 are absolutely essential and must be provided by food, because the body does not know how to metabolize them on its own. The other 11 can indeed be synthesized from other amino acids, and are therefore considered non-essential or sometimes semi-essential. Dietary sources of essential amino acids include meat, eggs, dairy products and some vegetable protein sources such as soy, rice or peas.


Amino acids in the body

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. When we consume proteins like meat or eggs, our digestive system breaks them down into amino acids and then recombines them into different sequences so that the new proteins perform their different functions in the body. For indeed, if amino acids are the building materials of muscles, they are also involved in the chemical reactions of the body, in the transport of nutrients and in the prevention of disease. A healthy body can synthesize 11 amino acids, the other 9 must be provided by food.

  • A deficiency in essential amino acids can lead to decreased immunity, digestive issues, depression, fertility issues, decreased mental alertness, stunted growth in children, and many other health issues.

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The essential amino acids under the magnifying glass


Lysine plays a vital role in building muscle, maintaining bone, aiding recovery after injury or surgery, and regulating hormones, antibodies, and enzymes. It may also have antiviral effects.

  • There is not much research available on lysine deficiency, but one study in rats indicates that Lysine deficiency can lead to anxiety and poor stress management.


Threonine is necessary for healthy skin and teeth because it is a primary component of tooth enamel, collagen and elastin. It participates in the metabolism of fats and can be beneficial for people suffering from indigestion, anxiety and mild depression.


Methionine and the non-essential amino acid L-Cysteine ​​play a role in the health, elasticity and strength of skin, hair and nails. Methionine promotes the absorption of selenium and zinc, and participates in the elimination of heavy metals such as lead and mercury.

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Valine is essential for mental acuity, muscle coordination and emotional calm. Athletes and people who want to increase their tone can use valine supplements for muscle growth, tissue repair, and energy.


Isoleucine helps wound healing, boosts immunity, blood sugar regulation and hormone production. This essential amino acid is mainly found in muscle tissue and regulates energy levels.


Leucine helps regulate blood sugar and promotes muscle and bone growth and repair. It is also necessary for wound healing and the production of growth hormones.


Phenylalanine helps the body use other amino acids as well as proteins and enzymes. The body converts phenylalanine into tyrosine, which is needed for specific brain functions.
Phenylalanine is often found in aspartame, which manufacturers use to sweeten their diet sodas. High doses of aspartame can increase phenylalanine levels in the brain and cause anxiety, nervousness and affect sleep.
Some people with a rare genetic condition called phenylketonuria (PKU) are unable to metabolize phenylalanine. Therefore, they should avoid consuming foods that contain high levels of this amino acid.

  • Phenylalanine deficiency, although rare, can lead to stunted growth in infants. It may also promote eczema, fatigue and memory problems in adults.

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Tryptophan is necessary for infant growth and is also precursor of serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates appetite, sleep, mood and pain. Melatonin is a hormone that also regulates sleep, and makes it easier to fall asleep. Tryptophan, on the other hand, is a natural sedative often used to reduce sleep disturbances and anxiety. But that’s not all. A study indicates that tryptophan supplementation may improve mental stamina.

  • Tryptophan deficiency can cause a condition called pellagra, which can lead to dementia, skin rashes and digestive problems.

Histidine (semi-essential in adults)

Histidine is involved in growth, blood cell creation and tissue repair. This amino acid also helps maintain the protective layer of nerve cells: the myelin sheath. The body metabolizes histidine into histamine, which is crucial for immunity, reproductive health, and digestion. Results from a study of women with obesity and metabolic syndrome suggest that histidine supplements can reduce BMI (Body Mass Index) and insulin resistance.


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