Amino acids are dubbed the building
blocks of life. But beyond this, how many consumers truly understand the Necessity of
obtaining a matrix of amino acids on a daily basis in order to maintain a host of
biological functions? In fact, how many health food store personnel understand the
importance of amino's, protein, and how to sell these products?
Granted, amino acids are rather dry
in their appeal, compared to the exotic romanticism of herbs. However, their applications,
and therefore, sales attraction, become exciting when it is realized how they provide
vitality through various functions. With the reams of new customers streaming through the
doors of health food stores for the first time because of glowing reports of ginkgo
biloba, St. John's wort, and glucosamine sulfate, among others, retailers have grand
opportunities to educate them on the roles of other important supplements such as amino
acid and proteins. So, it becomes important to realize what they are, why they are
necessary, and how protein intake plays a role in health maintenance.
The general awareness of the
benefits of amino's appears to be rather dim. "I think maybe two percent of the
population understands what amino acids are," said Dr. Gregory Young, Ph.D, founder,
president and CEO of Vaxa International, San Diego, CA. "Even many physicians I speak
with don't fully understand them."
Some sources opined that perhaps
part of the reason why many consumers are not knowledgeable about amino acids is that they
are not marketed as well as herbal products or specialty supplements. However, some
marketers are pointing to the flexibility of certain amino acids. For example, pointed out
Dr. Paula Gaynor, Ph.D. of Fair Lawn, NJ-based Lonza, her company supplies L-carnitine
along with educational literature explaining the exciting flexibility of this amino acid.
"L-carnitine is an amino-acid like substance that is essential for fat
metabolism," she explained. "But L-carnitine has also been used for more than 15
years in sports nutrition (for prolonged endurance, quicker recovery and bodybuilding),
weight management (fat burning and conversion to energy), as an essential nutrient for the
heart, and in infant formula."
Dr. Billie Sahley, Ph.D., president
of the Pain and Stress Center, San Antonio, TX, believes that people are more aware of the
benefits of amino acids today. "This is evidenced by the sales of my book, Healing
with Amino Acids, the first edition of which came out in 1996, and it has had three
subsequent printings," she said. "It has sold very well in health food stores,
which tells me that people are interested in learning about this class of
Quietly, the amino acid segment of
the dietary supplement market has gone through some fluctuations during the past few
years, as some sources have observed. Dale Hastert, president of Optimum Nutrition,
Aurora, IL, asserted, "Amino acids as a category are not as strong, although we still
do good business with our amino acid
capsules and tablets, and our flagship product Amino 2222, which is probably our
best-selling amino acid formula. But it appears that other forms, ways of getting protein,
and delivery systems have taken over. For example, liquid amino products have become more
popular In addition, Hastert said, there's been an upswing of consumer interest in protein
powders in general. And, "amino acids have become more specialized.
For example, there are different
forms of glutamine, such as OKG and GKG, which are now available. HMB, which has become a
popular supplement during the past two years, is a metabolite of leucine. And, more
protein powders are fortified with amino acids. Where the category used to be general in
its coverage, it is now full spectrum and more specific, and somewhat more esoteric."
The trend has been upward, observed
Don Blaine, general manager of Kyowa Hakko USA, a raw material supplier of amino acids
based in New York, NY. "Although in the past couple of years, it hasn't been growing
quite as robustly as the previous several years," he stated. He attributes this to
the exploding popularity of herbal supplements, on which manufacturers have placed more
marketing emphasis. "Our sales of amino acids, however, have been so steady and
strong that we are in the midst of expanding the production facilities in Japan," he
According to Bill Lahl, director of
commercial development for Marcor Development Corp., Hackensack, NJ, there is a wide
abundance of supplements that contain amino acids. "This market swings around,"
he noted. "At one
time, it was heavy in crystalline and freeform amino's, then it went into the
peptide-bonded amino's, now it is more whole proteins."
Amino Acids: Foundation of Life
Basically, one cannot speak of
proteins without tacitly introducing amino acids. According to Sahley in her book, Healing
with Amino Acids, "All of the nearly 40,000 distinct proteins found in the human body
are made from only 20 amino acids called the proteogenic amino acids." Dr. Robert C.
Atkins, M.D., in his new book, Dr. Atkins' Vita-Nutrient Solution, writes, "Without
different combinations of amino acids, hair would be indistinguishable from the heart,
among other unseemly possibilities. Just as letters of the alphabet form every word in the
dictionary, these chemicals congregate in an endless array of ways to form protein
molecules that influence and define the body's every cell."
Young pointed out that most life --
animal and plant -- is made from amino acids. "Amino acids are involved in such a
wide variety of actions in the body; they are the basis of genetic material, they are
effective in chelating minerals, they help remove excess ammonia from the kidneys, they
help rid the body of heavy metals. In addition, there are four amino acids in the
configuration of DNA; the combinations of those four comprise the genetic code and this
code then becomes rearranged as RNA, which processes other proteins using other amino
acids." he explained.
James F. Balch, M.D., and Phyllis
A. Balch, C.N.C., note in their newest book, Prescription for Nutritional Healing A-to-Z
Guide to Supplements, that there is a wide variety of proteins, each responsible for
different functions; proteins are found in vital body fluids, tendons and ligaments,
muscles, organs including the skin, hair and nails. In addition, certain proteins are
responsible for bone growth and maintaining healthy internal pH. Some also are charged
with regulating brain function, acting as neurotransmitters or their precursors.
"Proteins are chains of amino acids linked together by what are called peptide
bonds," they write. "Each individual type of proteins is composed of specific
group of amino acids in a specific chemical arrangement. It is the particular amino acids
present and the way in which they are linked together in sequence that gives the proteins
that make up the various tissues their unique functions and characters. Each protein in
the body is tailored for a specific need; proteins are not interchangeable."
A discussion about amino acids
would not be complete if the role of protein in the diet were not to be addressed. Dr.
Atkins (whose famous diet is based on strict carbohydrate restriction) believes that much
of people's obesity and weight problems stem from not enough protein intake and too much
carbohydrates. This doesn't mean that someone who is healthy should shun all vegetables
and eat a raw meat diet. Rather, like anything else, balance is key.
Therefore, too, your vegetarian
customers should ensure that their intakes of protein via supplementation or through
soy foods and legumes are steady; it is widely and well known that chicken, eggs, fish and
lean red meat are very high in protein content. Gaynor asserted that it would benefit
retailers to promote amino acids, in particular, l-carnitine, to vegetarians because the
body needs methionine and lysine to make l-carnitine. "Vegetarians are susceptible to
carnitine deficits because they don't eat meat, which is the best source of
l-carnitine," she said. It is important here to make a distinction about the
relationship between protein ingestion and protein production in the body.
Nick Rana, technical manager at Now
Foods, Glendale Heights, IL, explained that when we ingest protein from any dietary
source, we use our body's acid (upper GI) and alkali (lower GI) to cleave the proteins
into smaller constituents, which are amino acids. The body uses these substances for a
variety of functions. It becomes clear that amino acids are absolutely vital. Rana noted
that certain amino deficiencies can cause cognitive impairment, among other biological
imbalances and problems.
Amino Acid Classifications
Non Essential Conditionally
Essential & Essential Alanine, Asparagine, Aspartic Acid, Glumic Acid, Glycine,
Proline, Serine, Arginine, Cysteine, Cystine, Glutamine, Glycine, Taurine, Tyrosine,
Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Tryptophan*, Valine
From Healing With Amino Acids by
Billie J. Sahley, Ph.D.
*Due to the long-standing FDA
regulation, tryptophan is not available for sale as a dietary supplement. It is typically
found in turkey and in milk, and can therefore be supplied in the diet.
Amino Acid Forms And Applications
Essential amino acids -- some say
there are eight, others say there are nine, a few believe all amino's are essential -- are
generally considered those that the body cannot manufacture and must obtain through the
diet [see sidebar]. A semantically driven argument would be that because of their
necessary functions to sustain life, all amino's are essential. For retailers of dietary
supplements, perhaps this is a viable -- and sales worthy -- mindset.
When reading supplement labels and
literature, it is common to see amino acids presented with "l-" preceding them.
There is also a "d-" form. Young explained: "There are two basic types of
chemicals in nature; one is an l form; the other is a d form. This is seen when the amino
is put in a solution and light is sent through it. The light will either refract to the
left or to the right. The l form denotes a left-sided molecule, while d denotes a
right-sided molecule. Most organic molecules are left sided."
Branched chain amino acids, or
commonly known as BCAAs for short, are so named for their physical configuration. Each of
this trio of amino's -- valine, leucine and isoleucine -- "is comprised of individual
carbon atoms to which are attached hydrogen," explained Lahl. "These form a
chain of atoms and this chain characterizes a specific amino acid. Besides adding to the
chain, it can also have branches in length; for example, instead of having six carbons in
a row, it could have four in a row with two branched off."
BCAAs are typically used by
athletes who want to build muscle, since this is the trio's main area of action. Lahl
added that there's also a lot of documentation that shows that BCAAs are helpful in
speeding up post-operative recovery and wound healing. Marco Development, said Lahl,
supplies a trio of aminos known as sulfur amino's -- mehtionin, cystine and systeine --
which are readily interconverted by the body. Cystine is a dimer of cysteine; the latter
is the substance that "makes nails nails and hair hair," Lahl remarked.
"Cystiene is located on each
side of a chain of molecules, which forms cystine. Although these three
essential, the body can interconvert them, meaning that if a person only takes one in the
diet, the body can convert it into the other two."
Free form amino's are those that
have not chained together to form peptides or proteins; they are singular entities.
Peptides can have as few as three or up to 80 amino acids chained together, said Young,
while proteins can be thousands of chain links long. He pointed out that free form amino
acids are immediately absorbed through the epithelial cells of the duodenum, and as such
do not have to be fully digested. Rana added that free forms are often used to
nutritionally support a biological function, not so much to increase protein levels.
Free form amino's are typically
produced by a process of fermentation. Kyowa Hakko is one of the world leaders in this
area. Blaine explained: "The Japan-based facility produces a variety of amino acids
through a proprietary process of fermentation process. Different bacteria strains and
variations on the fermentation process yield the various amino acids. These are then
purified and made into individual crystalline amino acid powders. This is different than,
for example, a protein powder made from soybeans where the manufacturer can list and
analyze for the naturally occurring amino acid content."
Checking Your Amino Stock
Many products feature the inclusion
of several amino acids in their formulations, so it is extremely difficult to put all the
amino acid products into one comprehensive amino acid category. But that doesn't mean that
a smaller, more cogent amino acid section should not exist. By drawing such attention to
this class of nutrients complete with attendant third-party literature, you will also
increase awareness among new customers and encourage purchases.
Acording to Sahley, any customer
who is undergoing a period of excessive stress is using up available amino acids --
particularly GABA, glutamine, taurine and tyrosine -- faster than the body can produce
them from dietary intake. Pain and Stress Center combines these amino's, which create
neurotransmitters, in one formula, Anxiety Control. "These amino's can become totally
depleted in people suffering from depression, anxiety and grief," she said.
"Customers who suffer form chronic fatigue, headaches and PMS can also benefit from
GABA, taurine, glutamine and taurine," she said.
Glutamine is an important amino, as
demonstrated by a study done by Roger Williams, a researcher at the University of Texas,
Austin, who showed that people who are glutamine deficient exhibit strong cravings for
alcohol. When their diets were supplemented with between 3,000 and 4,000 mg. of glutamine,
their cravings for alcohol were reduced by 85 percent, Sahley pointed out.
Young described l-glutathione as
"the most important and powerful antioxidant on the market. Two research scientists
at the University of California, San Francisco, recently showed that l-glutathione can
inhibit the HIV 1 virus." There's no shortage of amino acid supplements from which
retailers can select.
From Healing With Amino Acids by
Billie J. Sahley, Ph.D.
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