Protein is a vital molecule that carries out many functions in your body. Learn how proteins provide structure, regulate body processes, transport materials throughout your body, help your immune system and act as a source of energy.
What do your fingernails, your hair and the scrambled eggs you had for breakfast have in common? The answer: They all contain a lot of protein. Protein is found in all animal products, and it is essential to your life because it's part of every cell in your body.
The importance of this nutrient, which is really just a large molecule made up of amino acids, has been known for a long time. In fact, the word protein comes from the Greek word Proteios, which means of primary importance. In this lesson, we will learn about protein and how it functions in the body.
Proteins are all similar in that they are made up of chains of amino acids; these basic building blocks of proteins are linked together by unique chemical bonds called peptide bonds. So you could take a lock of your hair and a pile of scrambled eggs, and even though they look very different, at their molecular core, they are both simply chains of the amino acids bonded together.
Now, we talked about amino acids being the building blocks of proteins, but we could also say that proteins themselves are building blocks of the body.
And this brings us to the first important function of protein, which is to provide structure. Structural proteins make up integral parts of your body. For example, keratin is a type of protein found in your hair, nails and skin that helps give these structures strength. Inside your body, protein provides structure to every cell. Collagen, which is a structural protein found in various connective tissues, provides the framework for the ligaments that hold your bones together and the tendons that attach muscles to those bones.
Regulate Body Processes
Proteins also regulate body processes. For example, enzymes are proteins that speed up chemical reactions in the body. Without them, basic activities like breaking down the foods you eat would happen too slowly to support your life. You can think of enzymes as proteins that shift your body processes into high gear, much like your morning coffee gets your day moving along.
Body processes are also influenced by hormones, which are proteins that regulate the activity of cells or organs. Hormones are like chemical messengers that carry an order from one part of your body to another, much like Paul Revere carried the message that the British were coming to the people in his colony. For example, insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar by carrying a message to your body cells about how much sugar is present in your blood.
Another function of protein is to transport materials throughout your body. A great example of this is hemoglobin, which is the oxygen-transporting protein found in your red blood cells. When you breathe air into your lungs, the oxygen molecules from that air wait in your lung cells for a ride on a red blood cell, somewhat like a New Yorker waiting for a taxi cab. Once the oxygen attaches to the hemoglobin of that red cell, it can travel anywhere in your body.
Help With Immunity
Some proteins are protectors and help with immunity. For example, antibodies are proteins that can recognize foreign invaders in your body. These vigilant proteins are like the neighborhood watch and they work together with other cells from your immune system to help prevent infections, illness and disease.
So, we learned that proteins provide structure, regulate body processes, transport materials and help with immunity. Proteins are like the workhorses of the body, yet, they are so selfless that they would give up all they are to carry out their last function, which is to provide energy.
You see, in order to provide energy, the protein molecule must be destroyed and broken down into its amino acid parts. Protein is not your body's first choice for energy, that responsibility falls on the shoulders of carbohydrates, but if your diet does not provide enough fuel from carbohydrates, then protein can be used.
For example, if you go on a severe weight loss diet your body will break down proteins and use their amino acids to make fuel. This ensures that your body will always have energy, but staying on a super strict diet also robs your body of the proteins it needs to maintain body structures and carry out necessary functions, leaving you weaker in the long run.
Protein is a large molecule made up of amino acids that is capable of carrying out many important functions in your body.
It can be used to provide structure, like we see with keratin, which is a type of protein found in your hair, nails and skin, and in collagen, which is a structural protein found in various connective tissues such as your ligaments and tendons.
Proteins also regulate body processes. For example, enzymes are proteins that speed up chemical reactions in the body and hormones, like insulin, are proteins that regulate the activity of cells or organs.
Some proteins transport materials throughout your body, such as hemoglobin, which is the oxygen-transporting protein found in your red blood cells. Other proteins help with immunity, like we see with antibodies, which are proteins that can recognize foreign invaders in your body. And, if the body needs it, proteins can also be broken down to provide energy.
At the end of this lesson you are prepared to:
- Define protein
- List the purposes and functions of protein
- Explain when/why protein is used as energy