Amino acid deficiency - what are the causes and symptoms?
As organic compounds, amino acids play an important role in the human body - but not all of them in the same significant way.
In this article, you will not only learn what amino acids are exactly and what functions they fulfill, but also how you can recognize a deficiency and take targeted action against it.
Knowledge for your ears!
No time to read? Here you can listen to Claire's article.
Table of contents
• What are amino acids?
• Diverse amino acids - important functions
• Essential, semi-essential and non-essential - the amino acids
• Amino acid deficiency - the symptoms speak for it
• What are the causes of amino acid deficiency and when am I particularly at risk?
• Amino acid deficiency - here's how to combat it
What are amino acids?
The term amino acid is not quite exact, because it should actually be called aminocarboxylic acid, which was once also called amido acid. In any case, however, they are chemical compounds consisting of an amino group containing nitrogen and a carboxylic acid group containing oxygen and carbon.
So much for the theory. In practice, amino acids are found in all living things we know - which is precisely why we are taking a closer look at them.
Amino acids are actually the building blocks of life: they make up your proteins, which participate in almost every process in your body. Our cells, muscles and tissues are largely made up of amino acids, which have important functions, including:
• Transport and storage of many nutrients
• Regeneration of hair and skin
• Important for the function of organs, glands, tendons and arteries
• Necessary for healing processes of all kinds of wounds
This list alone makes it clear that the lack of amino acids must have an effect on our health - on the immune system on the one hand, and on the psyche on the other. But also on the performance, the potency, the fat metabolism and the blood sugar level.
Diverse amino acids - important functions
More than 250 amino acids are known - however, only 21 are considered proteinogenic. Only these are therefore part of proteins. This makes them indispensable for biological processes, as the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment also confirms on its website1.
And not without reason. Because the important functions include, for example:
• Formation of the proteins
• Structure of skin and hair
• Signal transmission in the brain
• Synthesis of the musculature
• Nutrient transport and storage
• Regulation of the cardiovascular system and the cell and bone structure
• Control of hormone production
• Preservation of the immune system
It is therefore all the more important to know that the body cannot produce all of them itself. Nine are therefore considered essential amino acids, which we must take in through food. We will therefore take a closer look at precisely these.
Essential, semi-essential and non-essential - the amino acids
The classification of amino acids is based on their importance for biological processes and the fact whether and to what extent they can be formed by the body itself:
Non-essential amino acids
These amino acids are produced by the body itself: Glycine, alanine, serine, cysteine, tyrosine, proline, glutamine, glutamic acid, asparagine and aspartic acid. The production works, among other things, by means of conversion of the essential amino acids into the non-essential amino acids.
In principle, the body is quite capable of producing these amino acids itself. However, the amount may be insufficient in certain phases, such as during pregnancy, in childhood or in the case of various diseases. These include high blood pressure and arteriosclerosis. In addition to arginine, histidine in particular belongs to this group of amino acids. However, histidine is also often counted among the essential amino acids.
Essential amino acids
We must pay special attention to this group. Because these following amino acids have a significant impact on our health and can not be formed by your body itself: Valine, Isoleucine and Leucine - also known as BCAA's -, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine as well as Tryptophan. The ninth essential amino acid would then be the aforementioned amino acid histidine.
Amino acid deficiency - these symptoms speak for it
As diverse as the functions of amino acids are in our body, the symptoms of an amino acid deficiency can be just as wide-ranging.
Indications are, for example:
Decline in performance and fatigue
Sleep disorders and mood swings
Muscle pain, muscle weakness and weight gain
Fluctuations of the blood glucose level
The fatal thing is that if you lack a single amino acid, this affects all proteins - and that logically has consequences. There are some phases of life in which you are exposed to a particular risk. What are they?
What are the causes of amino acid deficiency and when am I particularly at risk?
During pregnancy, the hormone balance changes fundamentally. This affects the production of the two semi-essential amino acids. Thus, a deficiency of these amino acids can arise more easily.
A child's body, which by its nature is still growing, is not capable of producing sufficient histidine and arginine. So again, the semi-essential amino acids are affected. During the growth phases, the overall demand for amino acids is also greatly increased. The diet should be adapted accordingly or possibly a supplement should be considered.
Are you under a lot of stress? Then your body releases stress hormones. And these are formed from amino acids. More precisely, it is the amino acids L-tyrosine and L-phenylalanine that are precursors here. During such periods of stress, it is therefore all the more important to pay increased attention to nutrition during this time or to counteract it specifically with a high-quality preparation.
Chronic diseases are often associated with long-standing nutrient deficiencies. Amino acids, for example, have an influence on blood pressure and blood flow. Of particular relevance here are arginine and citrulline, which as substrates of the enzyme eNOS can increase the formation of NO in vascular wall cells (Allerton, T. D., Proctor, D. N., Stephens, J. M., Dugas, T. R., Spielmann, G., & Irving, B. A. (2018). l-Citrulline Supplementation: Impact on Cardiometabolic Health. Nutrients, 10(7), 921. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10070921). NO is an important vasodilator, which are substances that dilate blood vessels. In the case of high blood pressure and arteriosclerosis, this NO synthesis is often limited.
Athletes also have an increased need for amino acids, and- despite their usually protein-rich diet - also benefit from them. This is because their effects are extremely diverse:
Thus,BCAAs not only promote muscle development and metabolism 3, but also the production of energy.
L-carnitine, on the other hand, boosts fat burning but also supports muscle recovery4.
You can use l-arginine to improve your blood flow - and build healthy muscle5.
Even though creatine, which is valued by many athletes, is not one of the amino acids, it is produced from them by the body itself. Therefore, this compound must not be missing among athletes.
However, research into amino acids has produced further interesting results, as impressively demonstrated by a master's thesis published in the Sportärztezeitung6: Amino acids can have a positive effect on existing pain symptoms and improve general well-being. Within the framework of this randomized double-blind study, the test group was specifically supplied with amino acids in order to work out a difference to the placebo group. And this was successful. So some exciting results are still to be expected here.
Now it has been clarified how amino acid deficiency can occur, or when the demand is increased.
Only one thing remains: how can you proceed in case of amino acid deficiency?
Aminosäuremangel – so gehst du dagegen vor
If you eat a healthy and balanced diet, a lack of amino acids is unlikely. Unless you are pregnant, still growing, under constant stress, chronically ill or a competitive athlete. Then you can target countermeasures with a high-quality product that contains not only the relevant amino acids, but also vitamins and minerals, and benefit from the positive synergistic effects.
2 Allerton, T. D., Proctor, D. N., Stephens, J. M., Dugas, T. R., Spielmann, G., & Irving, B. A. (2018). l-Citrulline Supplementation: Impact on Cardiometabolic Health. Nutrients, 10(7), 921. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10070921
3 Plotkin, D. L., Delcastillo, K., Van Every, D. W., Tipton, K. D., Aragon, A. A., & Schoenfeld, B. J. (2021). Isolated Leucine and Branched-Chain Amino Acid Supplementation for Enhancing Muscular Strength and Hypertrophy: A Narrative Review. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 31(3), 292–301. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.2020-0356
4 Gnoni, A., Longo, S., Gnoni, G. V., & Giudetti, A. M. (2020). Carnitine in Human Muscle Bioenergetics: Can Carnitine Supplementation Improve Physical Exercise? Molecules, 25(1), 182. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules25010182
5 Khalaf, D., Krüger, M., Wehland, M., Infanger, M., & Grimm, D. (2019). The Effects of Oral l-Arginine and l-Citrulline Supplementation on Blood Pressure. Nutrients, 11(7), 1679. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11071679