How Can I Boost My Immune System? Amino Acids and Immune Function

The immune system is the front line for the body’s defense. When there’s bacteria, infections, or viruses, your immune system will be the first one to respond.

Amino Acids are one of the most essential building blocks in the body and improve immune function. When woven together, it first forms a peptide and then a polypeptide before forming an entire chain. After completing the weaving, they then form what we know as a protein. However, they are not just proteins; they are also the very building blocks of your DNA.

But how do they influence your immune system’s function? What is it in Amino Acids that make them a power set of vitamins for the immune system? All these effects boil down to a biochemical and molecular level that only happens within the cells.

Immune System Defense

The immune system is the front line for the body’s defense. When there’s bacteria, infections, or viruses, your immune system will be the first one to respond. In the immune system, there are different kinds of cells that attack these bacteria. These are the lymphocytes, neutrophils, and monocytes or macrophages. However, what’s important in the immune system defense are the cytokines or what we also call the “signaling proteins”.

Cytokines are the proteins that signal other proteins to help should an infection arise. And as a protein, it requires the amino acids to continue being able to detect these said infections. Amino Acids are responsible in the build-up and fueling of the cells to make sure they send in the right signals to call the right cells.

However, there’s a particular kind of amino acid that serves as the best among the immune system boosters: glutamine.

How does glutamine help with immune function?

Glutamine is a support-type protein. Meaning, it doesn’t confront the infection head-on. Instead, it reinforces its own defenses by aiding in the creation of more lymphocytes. The more lymphocytes there are, the stronger the defenses. Depending on the kind of Glutamine, it also has specific functions. And there’s one rule about amino acids: structures dictate function. For example, L-Glutamine works with the microbes in the gut. It not only absorbs the nutrients but filters out those that bacteria that were found in the food.

What about the other amino acids? Do they have any use?

Different amino acids react differently to different infections. One being Lysine. Lysine is an amino acid that’s good for the immune system as well. However, its main target would be the herpes simplex virus. Because the herpes simplex virus feeds on arginine, Lysine counteracts the proliferation of the said virus to keep the virus at bay or defeat it.

Where do you get amino acids?

Remember, amino acids are the basic blocks to building protein. Because they’re the building blocks to protein, the most common sources for amino acids are meats or certain kinds of vegetables. Nuts also have high protein content which serves as a vegetarian’s or vegan’s source of protein.

While there are many amino acids, there are nine main amino acids that one needs to take in. Leucine, Isoleucine, Valine, Phenylalanine, Lysine, Threonine, Tryptophan, Histidine, and Methionine.

1. Leucine

Leucine is a basic amino acid that indirectly affects our immune system by increasing the health of our physical body. Or, the muscles. Leucine helps create more protein for protein build-up and often times helps our bodies release endorphins after a stressful exercise. These endorphins then influence the function of our immune system especially when laughter is involved as it affects the Natural Killer cells. Natural Killer cells are what take down the metastasizing cancer cells and operate best when the body is fuelled by laughter.

2. Isoleucine

Isoleucine helps in oxygen transport by creating hemoglobin. It also assists in DNA translation and creation. Similar to leucine, it helps also in muscle function.

3. Lysine

Lysine isn’t just about muscle growth but also helps combat against herpes simplex virus. It also aids the build-up of collagen which is meant for bones. And with more of that in the body, your body can devote more energy to increase the strength of your immune system.

4. Tryptophan

Tryptophan is an amino acid that affects our immune systems through the neurotransmitters. Tryptophan after synthesis then evolves further into serotonin which improves mood, appetite, and sleep. This would also explain why those who are suffering from mental disorders are also more prone to viruses and bacterial infections.

5. Methionine

Methionine is an amino acid that contains a sulfur group that helps in tissue regeneration. It focuses more on the physical aspect of healing, making sure that no hostile microbes enter the body. With high amounts of methionine, helps reduce fat by removing the fat from the liver. Methionine also aids in the creation of Creatinine which is for cellular energy.

6. Phenylalanine

Phenylalanine is similar to Tryptophan in which it affects the immune system by improving our overall mood. Phenylalanine affects the production of dopamine which is then synthesized into L-dopa, norepinephrine, and epinephrine to further fuel the body with more endorphins. It also affects our metabolic state as a precursor for thyroid hormones.

7. Threonine

Similar to leucine and lysine, Threonine helps support the function of the immune system. It also accelerates the healing of bones and tissue especially when they’ve gone through physical damage.

8. Histidine

Histidine is one of the more important amino acids as it has a direct relation with the immune system. It helps deal with allergies hence, the word: anti-histamine. To improve the overall function of the body, histidine assists in creating more red blood and white blood cells.

9. Valine

Valine improves the immune system by affecting one’s circadian rhythms. The circadian rhythms are one’s body’s rhythms and schedules. Valine improves an individual’s sleeping pattern, lowering the degree of insomnia and nervousness. It also affects muscle building just like all the other amino acids but also serves as a precursor for the penicillin biosynthetic pathway, becoming a transporter for Tryptophan.

What other vitamins affect the immune system?

The most common vitamin that would affect the immune system would be Vitamin C. Vitamin C undergoes the citric cycle which helps it distribute its benefits to the other parts of the body. It also aids in the creation of Glutathione which is the primary antioxidant when it comes to repairing the body. It offers not only liver protection but cleans out the skin, improves cognitive health, and helps make the skin look brighter and whiter.

What are good sources of amino acids?

For amino acids, it can highly depend on what kind of amino acid you’re looking for. However, there are a lot of foods that are rich in amino acids. It’s just a matter of choosing the right one. Below are lists of foods that are rich in the particular amino acids you’re looking for.

amino acids and immune function

As long as you have those nine essential amino acids running through your system, your immune function would improve beyond better. You’ll be able to go through your day without feeling any fatigue from infection. And who knows? Maybe some of your allergies may go away due to a heightened and strengthened immune system.

Sources:

  • Wu, G. (2009). Amino acids: metabolism, functions, and nutrition. Amino acids, 37(1), 1-17./li
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  • Tan, B., Xie, M., & Yin, Y. (2013). Amino acids and immune functions. In Nutritional and Physiological Functions of Amino Acids in Pigs (pp. 175-185). Springer, Vienna.
  • Li, P., Yin, Y. L., Li, D., Kim, S. W., & Wu, G. (2007). Amino acids and immune function. British Journal of Nutrition, 98(2), 237-252.
  • Grimble, R. F. (2006). The effects of sulfur amino acid intake on immune function in humans. The Journal of nutrition, 136(6), 1660S-1665S.
  • Azzam, M. M. M., Dong, X. Y., Xie, P., Wang, C., & Zou, X. T. (2011). The effect of supplemental L-threonine on laying performance, serum free amino acids, and immune function of laying hens under high-temperature and high-humidity environmental climates. Journal of Applied Poultry Research, 20(3), 361-370.Gleeson, M., Nieman, D. C., & Pedersen, B. K. (2004). Exercise, nutrition and immune function. Journal of sports sciences, 22(1), 115-125.

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