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Not a Country in South America


Are the words arginine, tyrosine, glutamine, and lysine beginning to look familiar to you? And youâ??re not sure why? Something you saw on a map of a South American country, perhaps, or something you read in a copy of Grayâ??s Anatomy? In fact, thes.

Are the words arginine, tyrosine, glutamine, and lysine beginning to look familiar to you? And you’re not sure why? Something you saw on a map of a South American country, perhaps, or something you read in a copy of Gray’s Anatomy? In fact, these words are popping up more often than ever as journals, magazines, and newspapers report about the importance of these amino acids (aminos) to our health and well-being.

Aminos 101

Aminos are the building blocks of protein and we consume them in the form of plant and/or animal proteins. The body also generates about 60 to 70 grams of protein per day by recycling its own cells and enzymes. Aminos are used to produce body tissues, enzymes, immune system components, hormones, and neurotransmitters, and, in essence, to hold us together.

The human body needs 22 aminos that can be classified as either “essential” or “nonessential.” The essential aminos cannot be manufactured by our bodies. The others are considered nonessential because the body can build them from other amino acids and nutrients.

However, when organ dysfunction occurs (for example, liver or kidney disease) or when the body is under stress (infection, surgery, injury, strenuous exercise) it may become unable to build all the nonessential aminos it needs, and they must be obtained through diet or supplementation.

Are You Getting Your Aminos?

Including adequate, quality protein in your diet will help to ensure that your amino acid intake is sufficient. The amount of protein that you need will vary depending on your size, level of activity, and state of health. The average adult needs around 0.8 grams of protein per one kilogram of body weight.

A good quality protein supplement may be worthwhile for those days when you are not likely to get enough aminos. When you’re on the fly, and you’re feeling like you could use air traffic control in your life, consider blending up a protein shake first thing in the morning to haul along for the flight.

Proper protein intake will help keep your fuel tank filled with aminos, but should you also supplement with specific amino acids? Sometimes yes. Here are some amino superstars to consider.


Heart disease is the number one killer of women and men on this continent. Arginine helps to support heart function, improve circulation through blood vessels (including the coronary vessels that feed blood to the heart), can reduce blood pressure, and may also act as an antioxidant. Studies have shown that arginine can:

  • relieve symptoms of angina in as little as one week
  • reduce leg pain and improve blood flow in the legs of intermittent claudication patients
  • increase exercise tolerance and quality of life in individuals with heart failure.

Arginine supplementation has been found to reduce pain and the urgency to urinate in people who suffer from interstitial cystitis–an inflammation of the bladder wall that can cause symptoms such as chronic pelvic pain and frequent urination. In addition, arginine, which is involved in the production of collagen, can enhance wound healing and immune response.


Cells of the immune system and small intestine rely on glutamine for energy. During infection, trauma, or strenuous exercise the body’s glutamine use–and requirement–grow by leaps and bounds.

Blood glutamine levels are depressed after strenuous exercise which can contribute to an increased risk of infections. In a study reported in the Journal of Nutrition, 1997, when 200 runners and rowers were supplemented with oral glutamine after exercise and then monitored for signs of infection for seven days, only 19 percent of glutamine-treated athletes reported infections versus 51 percent in the placebo group.

Glutamine can help to protect and maintain the integrity of the intestinal lining and I often recommend it for promoting intestinal health. Glutamine has also been shown to reduce the severity and duration of diarrhea in children and combines well with probiotics for this purpose.


Supplementation with lysine can reduce the frequency and severity of cold sore outbreaks. It may also improve calcium absorption and reduce calcium losses through the kidneys, making it potentially helpful in the battle to maintain your bones.


In a study published in the Journal of Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 1999, it was shown that tyrosine may help to improve memory under stress, and the Aviation Space Environment Medicine Journal, in 1995, published a study reporting that tyrosine may also help maintain the ability to perform mental tasks while deprived of sleep.

You can build your vocabulary, and more importantly, your health and well-being with these essential aminos.

Eight Essential Aminos

  • leucine
  • isoleucine
  • valine
  • lysine
  • threonine
  • tryptophan
  • methionine
  • phenylalanine


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Leah PayneLeah Payne