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What is histidine?
Histidine is an essential amino acid and one of the 23 proteinogenic amino acids. It has an imidazole functional group, which is typical for an aromatic amino acid. It is involved in the formation of proteins and influences several of the metabolic reactions in the body.
Histidine needs to be part of the diet. This is particularly important for infants as a deficiency can lead to growth problems and other conditions. This amino acid is also an essential substance for those recovering from an illness and during growth (in childhood and the teenage years).
L-histidine has many vital functions within the body. These include tissue repair, building haemoglobin and strengthening the immune system.
Functions of histidine
One of the most important characteristics of histidine is that the body can convert it into various substances. These include histamine, glutamate and haemoglobin. Furthermore, it plays a role in various metabolic reactions and hence indirectly ensures the oxygen supply to all the organs and tissues.
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It is also a building block for many molecules containing iron, for example ferritin. This function is important as it ensures a sufficient energy supply in the cells and can detoxify the body of heavy metals. It does this by combining with the metals.
This amino acid is important in regulating the pH value of the blood. It also supports wound healing and regulates growth and repair mechanisms.
Additionally, the body uses this amino acid to form the myelin sheath. This surrounds all nerve cells and protects them from damage, and can be important in preventing certain degenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
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This amino acid is also involved in producing red and white blood cells. Therefore it influences the immune system, as leukocytes play a large role in combating pathogens. It can also help in cases of inflammation. This means that it can be useful in the treatment of arthritis and reducing allergy symptoms.
Furthermore, histidine can protect the body from radiation damage. It does this by binding to the damaging molecules, therefore eliminating them. For this reason, scientists can administer a specially-designed preparation containing this amino acid before medical treatment where ionising radiation is involved. This can protect the body from the direct and indirect effects of radiation.
The preventative and therapeutic potential of this amino acid has not yet been fully explored. But scientists have carried out several studies which have proven the effectiveness of this substance in medical treatment.
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The discovery that this amino acid can lower the blood pressure was a particularly important step. As L-histidine relaxes the blood vessels, it can reduce blood pressure and help to prevent certain cardiovascular conditions. These include arteriosclerosis and heart attacks. Researchers also proved that the daily consumption of a nutritional supplement containing L-histidine can reduce the risk of cardiovascular conditions by up to 60.9%.
A further area where the use of L-histidine supplements is important is the treatment of chronic kidney failure. This is particularly common among older people. A low concentration of this amino acid in the blood plasma increases the inflammatory activity of the body and leads to a rise in oxidative stress. Scientists have found that histidine supplementation is directly associated with a reduced mortality rate .
Scientists have recently discovered that histidine in combination with zinc can help against colds. The body can absorb zinc more easily when it is taken with histidine. Scientists conducted a study to test whether zinc and L-histidine can reduce the duration of a viral or bacterial infection. The study included over 40 participants. The researchers found that the consumption of both these substances together shortens the length of a common cold by an average of 3.6 days.
The effects of stress, existing chronic conditions and injuries increase the daily requirement of histidine. After operations or in cases of anaemia, the body’s need for histidine can rise very rapidly. This might mean you need to consider taking supplements.
A deficiency in this amino acid could lead to inflammation of the skin and mucus membranes as well as slower recovery from an operation. An inadequate supply can have serious consequences for children and young people, as they are still growing and a deficiency can disrupt normal growth.
Histidine regulates the immune defence in the body, allergic reactions and inflammatory processes. Therefore a deficiency can lead to people becoming more susceptible to infection or experiencing aggravated allergy symptoms.
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Protein- rich foods contain high levels of this amino acid. Soya beans (around 1097mg per 100g), chicken breast fillets (around 791mg per 100g) and beef (around 678mg per 100g) are particularly good sources of L-histidine. Wheat germ (around 643mg per 100g) and raw salmon (around 549mg per 100g) are also suitable for meeting the daily requirement.
It is important to note that, like vitamins, the actual histidine content of these foods is dependent on the storage conditions and preparation methods, and may differ from the standard value. Above all you should keep peas, walnuts and maize sealed and out of sunlight. This is because UV radiation and oxygen gradually destroy the levels of the amino acid inside, reducing the nutritional value of these foods.
Histidine plays a role in the regulation of growth and contributes to the formation of blood cells. Children in particular should ensure a sufficient supply of this vital substance, as a deficiency can lead to growth problems.
Furthermore, nutritional supplements containing this amino acid are very helpful during the recovery process after an operation or injury, as it supports the healing process and encourages the regeneration of tissue. This essential amino acid has also already proven its worth in the treatment of certain illnesses and can, among other things, reduce the severity of kidney failure and help prevent heart attacks.