Roles of Protein in Your Body
We know that protein is crucial to good health. Do you know that other than water, protein is the most abundant substance in our body? That’s because protein is a macronutrient, which means our body needs a large amount of it every day to function properly.
Made up of 20 amino acids that join together to form long chains, proteins are used in many vital processes in our body and need to be consistently replaced. Hence, we need to understand what are the roles of protein in our body as we must regularly consume foods that are high in protein for our body to function.
Here are 8 roles of protein in your body:
1) Growth & Maintenance
Protein is known as the building block of the human body. Our body needs protein for growth and maintenance of body tissues. Hair, skin, eyes, muscles, and organs are all made from protein. That’s why children need more protein than adults as they are growing and developing new tissues.
Our body’s proteins are always in the state of turnover. In normal circumstances, our body will break down the same amount that is used to build and repair tissues. Other times, it breaks down more protein than it creates, thus increasing our body’s needs.
This normally happens during illness, pregnancy, while breastfeeding and after exercising. Those recovering from injuries or surgery, pregnant, who just gave birth, elderly, and athletes require more protein than normal people.
2) Causes Biochemical Reactions
Enzymes are proteins that increase the rate of biochemical reactions within and outside of your cells. The structure of enzymes allows them to combine with other molecules inside the cell, which catalyze reactions that are essential to our metabolism.
Also, enzymes function outside the cell, such as digestive enzymes to help digest sugar. Certain enzymes require other molecules, like vitamins or minerals, for a reaction to take place.
Body functions that depend on enzymes are digestion, energy production, blood clotting, and muscle contraction. Lack or improper function of enzymes can lead to diseases.
Some proteins are hormones, which are chemical messengers that help control body function between cells, tissues, and organs. Hormones are grouped into three main categories, protein and peptides, steroids, and amines.
Protein and polypeptides make up most of our body’s hormones. Taking Insulin, a small protein, as an example – it’s a hormone that regulates blood sugar. It involves the glucose interaction of organs like the pancreas and liver.
Another example will be secretin. This substance aids in the digestive process by stimulating the pancreas and intestine to create necessary digestive juices.
4) Structure & Movement
Protein is in every single cell in our body – from hair to hails to muscles and organs. These proteins are fibrous and provide structure to cells and tissues with their stiffness and rigidity.
Without them, we wouldn’t be able to walk, run, or even move. Collagen is the most abundant protein in our body and is the structural protein of our bones, skin, tendons, and ligaments.
5) pH Balance
Protein plays a vital role in balancing the concentrations of acids and bases in our blood and other bodily fluids, e.g. saliva. These fluids function best at a neutral pH, or approximately 7.0.
Many things that we encounter daily, such as foods and pollution, will change the pH of bodily fluids. A slight change in pH can be harmful or potentially deadly, leading to chronic symptoms or health problems.
The proteins in our body act as buffers that help keep our pH neutral. An example is a hemoglobin; a protein makes up of red blood cells. It binds small amounts of acid, maintaining the normal pH value of our blood.
6) Bolsters Immune Health
Our immune system relies heavily on proteins. Proteins help form antibodies to fight against infection. Antibodies are proteins in our blood that help protect us from harmful substances, like bacteria or a virus.
Once our body produced antibodies against a particular bacteria or virus, our cells never forget how to produce them. This allows antibodies to respond quickly the next time our body meets a particular harmful invader.
As a result, our body develops immunity against disease or infections to which it is exposed before.
7) Transportation & Storage
Proteins also play a vital role in nutrient transport – it carries substances throughout our bloodstream within and out of cells. The substances transported include nutrients like vitamins, minerals, blood sugar, cholesterol, and oxygen.
An example is a hemoglobin – a protein that carries oxygen from our lungs to body tissues and takes carbon dioxide from our cells to lungs, so it will be expelled from our body. Protein transporters are specific; they will only bind to specific substances. This means that a protein that transports glucose will not move cholesterol.
Proteins also have storage roles. Ferritin is a storage protein that stores iron. Casein is the principal protein in milk that helps babies grow.
Protein supplies our body with energy. It contains four calories per gram, the same amount of energy that carbs provide. Fats supply the most energy at nine calories per gram.
However, our body should not use protein for energy as this nutrient is widely used throughout our body. Carbs and fats are better options for providing energy as our body maintains reserves for use as fuel. They’re also metabolized more efficiently.
Our body will only use protein for energy if we consume more protein than our body needs for tissue maintenance and other necessary functions.
Protein has many important physiological roles to play in our body. It helps repair and build our body’s tissues, allows metabolic reactions, and coordinates bodily functions.
Other than giving a structural framework to our body, proteins also maintain proper pH and fluid balance. Finally, they keep our immune system strong, transport and store nutrients, and act as an energy source if needed.
All these functions make protein one of the most vital nutrients for our health.