Despite the fact that nonprotein amino acids are present in many commonly eaten foods, the biologic and clinical significance of this class of molecules has been largely overlooked. This is owing in part to their relatively low concentrations and their negligible nutritive value. Many of these compounds have the ability to interfere with a wide range of fundamental biochemical processes and cause disease. It is likely that the clinical effects of the ingestion of some nonprotein amino acids are yet to be described. Serious disorders in humans have followed the ingestion of these compounds as the result of food faddism, prodded by the commercial promotion of inadequately tested products. In view of the current popularity of herbal remedies and alternative medicine, these facts serve as another reminder to health care providers and the public at large about the need for critical analysis of the alleged benefits and the risks of exotic remedies and nutritional supplements. Beyond the public health issues they raise, non-protein amino acids take on significance because their misincorporation into proteins can trigger vigorous autoimmune attacks. To what extent this mechanism is responsible for highly prevalent diseases of autoimmunity remains to be determined.