What are Amino Acids?
Most of us have been familiar with the surprising fact that a human adult body is approximately 60 percent water; as unlikely as it may sound, this is a fact. But in addition to that water, the human body is about 20 percent protein. The reason that there’s so much protein in the body’s composition is that protein plays an extremely important role in biology. As such, materials that make up protein — called amino acids — would likewise be extremely important for similar reasons.
If you were to look up “amino acid” in a textbook, you’d probably see a very complicated and technical description with lots of scientific jargon that would be difficult for all but the most science-minded individuals to understand. Specifically, amino acids are characterized as organic compounds containing amine and carboxyl functional groups with a “side chain” that’s unique to each of the different amino acids. Furthermore, the basic elements of an amino acid include carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, but the “side chain” can be a much wider variety of different elements. Currently, we’re aware of approximately 500 distinct amino acids, but of those 500 acids, only about 20 of them are present in our genetic code.
Although they serve many important roles, being the basic building blocks of our DNA is probably the feature for which amino acids are most well-known. However, amino acids are involved in various other types of cellular-level activities and reactions, which is why the residues — byproducts of various processes, events, and functions — that are left by proteins comprised of amino acids are the second-most common substance in the human body. After water, of course.
In more general terms, amino acids — which make up our cells, muscles, organs, and tissue — are what give us physical form and allow the different components of the body to perform their various tasks. For this reason, amino acids are not only instrumental when it comes to genetics but also in the ability for our organs, bodily systems, arteries, glands, and tendons to function and give us life. They’re also vital when it comes to bodily growth, repairing tissue and healing wounds, transferring and storing nutrients, and removing the waste deposits that are produced in association with metabolism.
Amino Acid Therapy for Addiction
So how do you take a substance like amino acid and turn it into a therapy? Obviously, amino acid therapy is quite unique when compared to other therapeutic techniques, including cognitive behavioral therapy or holistic treatments like acupuncture and massage therapy; however, there’s another important facet of amino acids that is important to the ability of amino acid therapy to be beneficial: Neurotransmitters — which are responsible for a wide variety of functions by relaying electrical signals between different parts of the brain — are made largely from amino acids that are obtained from the protein in one’s diet. Granted, it’s not a direct conversion from amino acid to neurotransmitter, but without amino acids, the brain would be lacking a material that’s crucial to the production of essential neurotransmitters.
Neurotransmitters are often referred to as “chemical messengers” because they enable neurotransmission, which is essentially the communication between the brain’s neurons. For instance, when you experience some type of physical pain, it’s because a neurotransmitter has relayed a signal from a part of the brain that interprets tactile sensations to the pain center in the brain; in other words, it’s neurotransmitters that convert the tactile experience of injury into actual pain. And, of course, those neurotransmitters are derived from amino acids.
However, with amino acids being such a common substance in the body, the brain could very easily get overloaded with neurotransmitters without something to regulate them, which is where the blood-brain barrier comes into focus. In fact, the blood-brain barrier keeps many different substances at bay, but it’s particularly important that the brain doesn’t become oversaturated with neurotransmitters as this is what occurs when an individual uses certain illicit drugs like opioids and cocaine. Of course, individuals with mood instabilities and disorders — particularly depression — have shown an immense improvement in symptoms after they strategically introduced additional amino acids into the body, allowing for the production of more neurotransmitters due to there being more amino acids in the body to use as raw materials. Therefore, amino acid therapy is the strategic and periodic increase in a high-protein diet as well as use of supplements that will introduce more amino acids into the body.