Amino acids

As we saw previously, amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. When we consume a meal, there is usually always a variable amount of protein contained in it. Of course, amounts vary. for example, meat products contain a high percentage of protein and fats, and very little, if any carbohydrate. On the other hand, vegetables contain a lower percentage of protein compared to meat, but a higher content of sugars.

As we digest a meal, the protein is broken down into its constituent amino acids. The amino acids are transported through the intestinal wall and are then transported and distrubed throughout the body, depending on need. Even though proteins are broken down into amino acids before they are transported through the intestinal wall, sometimes small proteins get through. These proteins are only a few amino acids in length. However, these proteins although beneficial, can sometimes ellicit immune responses (allergies).

Since proteins are broken down into its individual amino acids, we can see the logic of why we must inject certain drugs, versus taking them by mouth. Drugs that are of protein composition (eg., growth hormone) cannot be taken orally because they will simply be degraded into amino acids, and hence, useless. However, when they are injected, they are put directly into the circulatory system, and thus, bypass the digestive system. When these drugs find their way into the bloodstream, they can then exert their intended pharmacological effects on the body.

Why are amino acids so important? Considering a fair degree of our body is composed of proteins, amino acids are essential to life. Aside from structural importance, what other uses do amino acids have in the body? Amino acids can be used for energy production when the body is running low on other forms of fuel such as sugars and fats. The proteins that are made from amino acids are also important maintaining blood pressure. Since proteins have an attractive force on fluids in the circulatory system, they have an influence on blood pressure. We can make an assessment on the protein store of an individual by checking the albumin and pre-albumin in the blood. These are called acute phase reactants and change very quickly in response to changes in diet, illness, etc.

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