All About the Function of Proteins in the Body
Proteins play important roles in the body. They have the ability to generate tissues, as well as many others. Keep reading to learn more!
Do you know about the function of proteins in the body? These molecules, just like other nutrients, are necessary for various vital processes, which is why all individuals must incorporate them in their diet.
Likewise, proteins are made up of structural units called amino acids. Some of them can’t be synthesized by humans and, for that reason, they’re considered essential. There’s no other way to obtain them than through diet.
In general, proteins are molecules that have 4 basic elements: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. In addition to those, they may also have sulfur, iron, copper, or other minerals.
Proteins play a fundamental role in living beings since they’re macronutrients necessary for optimal functioning. Their functions are versatile and diverse, the main one being helping the formation of tissues and muscle mass. However, it goes beyond that one characteristic.
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Up next, we’ll be talking about the multiple actions that they carry out.
- Structure and plasticity. An important function of proteins in the body is to form cell structures. They repair tissues, provide support, and confer elasticity and resistance. There are two classic examples of this. First, collagen, which is found in bones and tendons. Secondly, keratin, which is found in hair, skin, and nails. In fact, according to studies, protein intake is one of the basic components to achieve muscle mass.
- Regulation. Some hormones, such as insulin and glucagon, have a proteic nature. These two hormones allow the regulation of the concentration of glucose in the blood. Another case is calcitonin, which is responsible for metabolizing calcium. In addition, there are proteins whose function is directing cell division and the expression of genes.
- Defense. Proteins help create immunoglobulins. These are antibodies capable of protecting the body against foreign agents. Mucins, for example, protect mucous membranes and have a germicidal effect. There’s also fibrinogen and thrombin, which contribute to the formation of blood clots and thus prevent bleeding.
- Homeostasis. Proteins have the ability to keep the internal environment stable through a process called homeostasis. It ensures that the pH, acidity and osmotic balance of the body are within normal values at all times.
- Enzymes. Many proteins are enzymes, meaning they allow the body to react to stimuli at a faster rate. They’re able to accelerate this process due to their ability to interact with substrates. For example, there are enzymes that allow food degradation, such as amylase, lipase and protease.
- Transport: They help transport substances in body fluids, such as oxygen (through hemoglobin and myoglobin) and fats (through apoproteins). At the cellular level, you could say that they’re channels and receptors that allow the entry and exit of compounds through cell membranes.
- Reserve: Proteins are also an energy reservoir in case they need to be used as fuel. While it’s not optimal for the body to use them as such, it’s a possibility when carbohydrates aren’t available.
The foods that provide protein are of animal and vegetable origin, however, they all differ in quality. Animal sources have a high biological value because they contain all the amino acids that are essential for the body. On the other hand, vegetable sources are deficient in some of them.
According to scientific studies, when consuming proteins of plant origin, except for soybeans, you should try to combine foods to achieve optimal quality. Otherwise, you’ll always be missing some key components.
You can find good proteins in:
- Red and white meat
- Dairy products
- Legumes: especially soybeans, chickpeas and lentils
- Nuts and seeds
Different pieces of scientific research recommend consuming 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of weight. This requirement varies according to the daily needs of each individual. For example, pregnant women, children, adolescents, and elders should consume an additional amount.
This is different in the case of athletes since the level of physical activity they carry out has a lot to do with it. In fact, according to a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, they should consume at least 2 grams of protein every day.
This nutrient is essential for many vital functions. For that reason, all individuals must pay attention to its consumption. Now, as previously mentioned, good-quality protein can be obtained through foods of animal origin. Therefore, those who follow a vegetarian diet should consult a nutritionist.
Read also: The seven best sources of vegan protein
As you can see, it’s important to learn about the function of proteins in the body. After all, these molecules aren’t just for making tissues. They’re indispensable due to their ability to influence multiple processes in the body. Our health depends on them, therefore, it’s vital to incorporate them into our diet.