Why are Proteins Important?

nutrition

Proteins are essential components of life. They are manufactured in cells and take on many roles

Types of Proteins

Structural
Proteins compose a large part of the tissues in the body, primarily muscle and skin, although they are in all cells and help them maintain their shape.
Enzymes
These are the chemical elements that drive metabolic reactions in the cells. They are a special class of proteins. DNA requires enzymes for expression – without them, all cellular functions eventually stop.
Hormones
Most hormones are proteins, including insulin, growth hormone and thyroid-stimulating hormone.
Immune system
Antibodies are a type of protein.
Cell receptors
These are proteins that communicate through the cellular membrane and cause effects inside the cell.

Proteins in nutrition

Proteins are composed of chains of amino acids. The chains may be hundreds or thousands of amino acids long. They are linked in a specific way so that the chain folds into a shape that then gives the protein its properties.

In humans, there are twenty amino acids used to build up the various proteins we need to live. Of these, our bodies can make all but eight. These eight essential amino acids must come from our diets.

Unlike vitamins, which may require supplements to make sure we get all of the required types, the proteins we need are readily available in most diets. It would be extremely rare to find someone who was missing an essential protein, unless that person was starving.

Proteins and addiction

In some cases, addiction leads to such a severe nutrient deficit that the person is virtually starving. They limit their food intake in favor of taking drugs. Eventually, the body begins to metabolize its own tissues – primarily muscle – to get the amino acids it needs to build proteins.

Current recommendations are to get about 60 grams a day to prevent deficiency. This is a minimum and anyone eating a normal diet will easily meet this standard. Another guideline is to get 10% to 20% of daily calories in the form of protein.

When recovering addicts are able to eat normally (after withdrawal) they should be encouraged to get enough protein in their diet to meet these minimums – and for a few weeks, perhaps much more.

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photo by Nyboer Creative

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