Basic Amino Structure   Amino Acids are the building blocks for all proteins. Amino acids contain a nitrogen group, which is unique to each different amino acid, and an acid group. The nitrogen and acid groups can be linked in any number of ways to form thousands of specific proteins. Amino acids help build cells, repair tissue, form anitbodies, build RNA and DNA, carry oxygen throughout the body and aid muscle activity.  There are 9 amino acids that are essential, meaning your body cannot manufacture them. They must come from the foods you eat.  The 9 essentials are: Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan and Valine.

There are 11 non-essential amino acids, which means your body can manufacture them on its own.  The 11 non-essentials are: Alanine, Arginine, Asparagine, Aspartic Acid, Glutamine, Glycine, Proline, Serine, Tyrosine, Cysteine and Glutamic Acid.  The last two can become essential during stressful times, such as severe illness. ** There are other amino acids, but unlike the 20 listed above, they do not built protein.

 Federal Trade Commission lawyer Michell Rusk said there is a big problem with misleading information about dietary supplements, including vitamins, minerals and amino acids.  "Too many advertisements go beyond the actual scientific evidence and misrepresent the facts," Rusk said.  For example, in 1995, Nature's Bounty Inc. settled FTC charges of 26 exaggerated health claims for dietary supplements.  Among the claims were statements that advertised benefits of certain amino acids.  The products, called L-Arginine and L-Ornithine, were advertised to increase muscle mass while decreasing body fat.

 University of Florida human nutrition professor Harry Sitren said these claims are greatly exaggerated.  "Arginine and ornithine are amino acids that stimulate 'growth hormone,' one of the body's major regulatory hormones.  But this action is achieved through the normal intake of dietary protein from foods," Sitren said.   He said supplemental intake of these individual amino acids have little effect on raising hormone levels further. Therefore, muscle mass and body fat will not change by increasing intakes of these amino acids beyond normal dietary intakes.

One of the problems with dietary supplements is that people often believe, if a little is good, a lot must be better, Sitren noted."   But he said it is easy to take too much of a good thing and suffer adverse side effects.   "Many consumers take isolated amino acids such as lysine and glutamine, but they create problems for themselves when certain amino acids negatively affect the positive actions of other amino acids."

 ** Sitren said that unless people are deficient in a particular amino acid, they do not need to take amino acid supplements. He said it is nearly impossible to eat a diet in America that is deficient either in protein or any amino acids. Sitren said it is especially important to note that dietary supplements, including amino acids, cannot overcome the negative effects of smoking, poor eating habits or a sedentary lifestyle.