Alanine is an amino acid.
The molecular formula of alanine is C3H7NO2
Amino acids generally are explained further in the column on the rightin further detail below. Briefly, there are two types of amino acid:
- Those that can be synthesized by the body itself (non-essential amino acids), and
- those that, although necessary for the healthy growth or maintenance of the body, cannot be produced by the body itself.
This second type of amino acids are called essential amino acids, and are also referred to as indispensible amino acids in some textbooks.
Alanine is a "non-essential" or "dispensible" amino acid because, although its presence in an appropriate quantity is important for good health, the human body can produce this chemical from an excess of certain other amino acids in the body. Therefore it is not essential as a part of the diet.
Alanine is important for the healthy functioning of the liver. It also plays an important role in the management of energy provision to muscle tissues. When there is a need for energy but a deficit of oxygen in tissues, muscle proteins are broken down for energy. Alanine then acts as a carrier molecule to transport the nitrogen-containing amino group to the liver to be changed into the less toxic urea. This helps to prevent accumulation of toxic substances in muscle cells.
For further information about amino acids in general, see Amino Acids.