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What is Deamination?

By Marco Sumayao
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Deamination is the bodily process in which amino groups are removed from excess proteins. This happens most often in the liver, though it also occurs in the kidneys. This process allows the system to convert excess amino acids into usable resources such as hydrogen and carbon. The process also plays a vital role in removing nitrogen waste from the body. Amino groups discarded as a result of the process are converted into ammonia, which is later expelled from the body through urination.

Researchers believe that an overabundance of protein in the system can lead to several health issues. These include increased calcium excretion, heart disease, and even cancer. Excessive protein, if not offset by exercise, can also lead to unhealthy body weight. By removing the amino group, deamination converts excess protein into molecules the body can use for its other metabolic processes.

The chief site of deamination in the human body is the liver. Hydrolytic enzymes found in the organ separate the NH2 amino groups from proteins. The process leaves behind a carbon skeleton composed primarily of hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen. This skeleton can later be converted into usable glucose and lipids, indirectly making this process one of the body's energy-producing mechanisms.

Amino groups removed via deamination bond with a hydrogen molecule to form ammonia. Ammonia, however, is toxic to the human body and must be discarded. A separate chemical process combines the resulting ammonia with carbon dioxide, converting it into either urea or uric acid. Both compounds are diffused into the blood and later filtered out through the kidneys. The urea and uric acid are then expelled from the body via urination.

The kidneys also play an important role in breaking down amino acids. Excess glutamate undergoes deamination in the kidneys, wherein glutamate dehydrogenase catalyzes the process. As with liver deamination, the process forms ammonia, which is then discarded in the same fashion.

Although the process is generally beneficial to the human body, excessive deamination can prove to be a serious health risk. The increased activity in the liver and kidneys can wear down the organs, leading to significant damage and eventual failure. An overabundance in the resulting ammonia and uric acid can also pose health problems. In order to avoid this, some dietitians recommend limiting the amount of protein in the diet to levels near the recommended daily allowance. This is especially true for individuals who suffer from or have a family history of liver or kidney disease.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By bigpuma10 — On Jun 15, 2017

Bottom line: Does excessive protein intake turn into glucose and then fat if not used for energy?

Protein is used last as a source of energy, correct?

So, if a person consumes 60 grams of protein works out for an hour (Treadmill, some strength and conditioning work outs. Heart rate medium intensity) Is the body using the excessive protein as energy and the rest gets urinated out?

I have studied nutrition for a long time and now the studies are saying you can consume all the protein you want. Protein will never get to the point where it is stored as fat.

By Charred — On Jun 13, 2011

@hamje32 - It’s a fact that the best way to increase the metabolism in your body is through exercise, and not aerobic exercise, but weight training.

You should try working out with simple hand weights for twenty minutes a day at first to build muscle tone and strength and later start doing the bench presses.

This will do more to rid your body of excess protein than anything, and you’ll start losing the fat. Fat lost by calorie restriction alone will come back with a vengeance once you resume “normal” eating again.

By allenJo — On Jun 10, 2011

Some time ago I read about L-arginine, an amino acid sold in health food stores that supposedly has some health benefits. Basically it’s supposed to rid the body of waste products while it helps in protein production. I heard it was good for heart health. I took it for some time then started having nausea in my stomach.

I eventually traced it to the supplement. Apparently this is a side effect in some people. I don’t doubt its health benefits but I should have checked with my doctor first before using it. He’s not against health supplements, but he told me the body produced enough L-arginine on its own, so I didn’t need to supplement.

By hamje32 — On Jun 09, 2011

Years ago I realized that I was spending more time on the computer than was healthy, especially since I had a business on the side that required computer use in addition to what I did at work. Eventually, without changes to my lifestyle or diet, I began to put on some weight.

So finally I had to make a decision. It wasn’t easy to start exercising so I made dietary changes instead. I went on a salad diet, for lunch anyway. I saw no purpose in eating like I used to.

Just eating salad for lunch however made a big change in my protein metabolism. Excess weight started melting away, and later I did some light jogging too. I take it some deamination of protein was taking place, although I never realized the technical term until now.

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