What exactly are proteins and what does it do to our body?
Proteins are complex organic compounds composed of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. A strand of amino acids makes up the structure of a protein. The body also breaks down proteins in order to recycle amino acids. Through reusing the body’s amino acid supply to build proteins, the body establishes a "reserve" of amino acids in case of protein or energy deprivation.
The proteins in the body are very flexible in function. First, protein builds new tissues in the body and replaces depleted cells in the internal organs (i.e. intestinal tract), skin, and muscles (i.e. the heart) which are also constantly breaking down their own proteins. The proteins in the body are also used to make hemoglobin in the red blood cells in order to carry oxygen to other areas of the body. These red blood cells are also constantly replaced by new cells from the bone marrow to get rid of worn-out cells.
Proteins are also responsible for building enzymes and maintaining hormones. An example of a hormone that is made of amino acids is the thyroid hormone and insulin. Hormones respond to the internal environmental changes in order to restore normal conditions and in the case of thyroid hormones, regulate the body’s metabolic processes.
Proteins also help maintain the fluid and electrolyte balance in the body. Through proteins, cells retain the fluid and keep the fluid volume and composition constant. It has to be noted, however, that too much fluid will cause edema.
Other functions of proteins, among many, are to protect the immune system, to act as the "buffer" to maintain acid-base balance, to provide for the body’s energy needs and aid in blood clotting.
The essential amino acids can only be obtained from food sources.
Therefore, in order to have adequate intake of protein, an individual must include protein in his regular balanced diet. Luckily, there are many different kinds of food that are excellent sources of protein. There are two groups of protein-containing foods. Eggs, fish, meat, poultry, and milk have all the nine essential amino acids and therefore are called complete proteins. On the other hand, food sources that are lacking at least one essential amino acid are vegetables (peas, beans, etc.), grains, and seeds and nuts are called incomplete proteins.
Dr. James E. Carlson B.S.,D.O.,M.B.A.,J.D.
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