If you’re into health and wellness, you’ve surely heard the buzz around protein. Maybe you’ve tried protein powders, meal replacement shakes, or even changed your diet to include more protein-rich foods.
But protein isn’t a singular entity. It’s a series of diverse and multifaceted molecules that serve many different functions within the body. Let’s discuss some of the different types of proteins and the important work they do. But first, what are proteins, anyway?
What are proteins?
Proteins are essential multitaskers within our bodies, critical for the structure, function, and regulation of all tissues and organs. They’re constructed from amino acids, with 20 varieties determining the unique structure and function of each protein, all of which are encoded by our DNA.
While most often associated with food intake, proteins also exist within us, serving as the building blocks for various bodily structures like muscles and bones. Our bodies can synthesize some amino acids, but nine essential ones must be ingested through our diet.
What does protein do for your body?
Each type of protein has its own special job. Some proteins help protect us from potentially harmful bacteria, while others help our bodies use vitamins properly.
When we eat protein-rich foods like meat, fish, and eggs, we consume many different types of proteins, and our digestive system breaks them down into amino acids before our bodies absorb them. Then our bodies use them for a variety of functions, including everything from muscle movements, to metabolism, to immunity.
Let’s explore different types of proteins and their respective roles in the body.
Different types of proteins and their functions
Motor proteins, or contractile proteins, are crucial for proper movement and cell renewal. Think of them as tiny “movers” inside our cells that help keep everything running smoothly.
These proteins help our muscles move and contract. Without these molecules, our muscles wouldn’t work together well, our tissues and skin wouldn’t repair themselves properly, and nutrients wouldn’t be properly delivered to our cells.
Myosin is an example of a motor protein. Like a tiny engine inside cells, myosin uses a fuel (a molecule called ATP) to create movement and force, helping the cell go where it needs to.
As their name suggests, transport proteins move vital substances throughout the body.
Take breathing, for example. We inhale oxygen, which travels to our lungs and needs to be distributed to crucial organs like our heart and brain to keep us alive and well.
The transport protein, hemoglobin, facilitates this. It contains iron, which allows it to distribute oxygen throughout the body.
Another example is serum albumin, a protein specializing in carrying important molecules like fatty acids and hormones in the blood.
Defensive proteins protect us from potentially harmful pathogens like viruses and bacteria.
One well-known type of defensive protein is an antibody. The body makes antibodies when it senses danger from invaders to help fight them off.
Defensive proteins also help with blood clotting. When we get a cut, proteins called thrombin and fibrinogen go to work to make our blood sticky and help stop the bleeding. So, defensive proteins keep us healthy and help our bodies heal.
Our bodies are made up of many different parts, and structural proteins are like the building materials that hold everything together. They help form bones, muscles, tendons, and other important parts of the body.
For example, collagen is a type of structural protein that helps build tendons, which connect muscles to bones. Another protein, called keratin, is what helps form and protect our hair, nails, and outer layer of the skin (epidermis).
Enzymatic proteins, often simply called enzymes, act as catalysts, accelerating various biochemical processes that are crucial to our well-being. There are more than 2,000 unique kinds that help us function optimally.
For example, digestive enzymes like pepsin and amylase support our digestive system, breaking down food into nutrients our bodies can absorb and utilize. We ingest these enzymatic proteins when we eat plant-based foods like pineapple, papaya, and fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi.
Enzymatic proteins are also essential for breathing, muscle and nerve function, and ridding our bodies of toxins.
Storage proteins are like storage boxes in the body. They hold onto important things we need, like energy resources and mineral ions (tiny charged particles of minerals).
A popular example of a storage protein is casein, which many athletes rely on for enhanced muscle growth. Casein contains nutrients like amino acids, carbohydrates, phosphorus, and calcium.
We consume ample storage proteins when we eat foods like plant seeds, egg whites, and milk.
Hormonal proteins are essential communicators within our bodies. They deliver crucial messages between cells, maintaining harmony and balance in our bodily functions, such as metabolism.
Insulin is a well-known hormonal protein. It helps regulate blood sugar levels and plays a vital role in delivering glucose to cells, especially within key areas like the liver (which is key in controlling blood glucose), muscles, and fat tissues.
Without proper insulin activity, glucose accumulates in the blood, leading to high blood sugar levels and, potentially, diabetes. Hormonal proteins ensure seamless cooperation between different parts of the body.
So we’ve seen that proteins are the multifunctional architects of our bodies, each performing a unique and vital role. Understanding the diverse jobs of different types can enhance our appreciation of the intricate workings of our bodies and the important functions of the foods we eat. So enjoy some healthy protein and know that you’re supporting your body’s natural healing capabilities.