The Many Health Benefits of Arginine
The average person may not have heard of arginine, also called L-arginine, but if you are an athlete or an avid weightlifter, you are probably very familiar with it. Arginine is present in many protein shake products that weightlifters and others use to help increase their muscle mass. However, arginine also has several health benefits as well.
What is L-Arginine?
Arginine or L-arginine is a non-essential amino acid that naturally occurs in the body. It is considered non-essential because it is manufactured by the body and doesn’t need to be obtained through diet. People who are healthy generally don’t need to use arginine supplements because their bodies produce a sufficient supply of it.
Arginine is found in several foods and people who have poor nutrition or some medical conditions may be advised to eat foods containing arginine. This amino acid is found in foods made from animals and plants. Some of these foods include:
- Dairy Foods – milk, yogurt, ricotta cheese, whey protein drinks
- Poultry – turkey or chicken light meat
- Wild Game Birds
- Seafood – shrimp, halibut, salmon, tuna
- Wheat Germ
- Wheat Flour
- Nuts – peanuts, walnuts, almonds
- Seeds – pumpkin, sesame, sunflower
- Cooked soybeans
L-Arginine Functions in the Body
Arginine is important for many bodily functions, especially in the healing processes. It aids in cell division, the release of hormones, it helps in healing wounds, arginine
is necessary for the immune system to function properly and it helps the body get rid of ammonia. It also reduces the healing time of some injuries, especially injuries to the bones and quickens the repair time of tissues that have been damaged.
Health Benefits of L-Arginine
Arginine has shown to be effective in for improving heart health, studies indicate it can help sexual dysfunction, it helps in improving the immune system and it plays a role in healing wounds, as well as injuries.
Heart Health Benefits
This amino acid helps to produce nitric oxide (NO) in the body, which helps blood vessels to dilate, which makes them more flexible and helps to improve blood circulation. There is some evidence showing that arginine can help improve blood flow in the arteries of the heart. By dilating the vessels of the heart, arginine can help to improve symptoms of angina, chest pain and clogged arteries. It could also help improve coronary artery disease.
Helps to Lower Blood Pressure
Having better blood flow can also help to reduce blood pressure, which goes up as blood vessels constrict or narrow. High blood pressure is a risk factor for both heart attacks and strokes, so anything that can help improve blood pressure can reduce both of those risks and improve cardiovascular health. However, arginine is shown to improve blood pressure when it is already within normal range. If your blood pressure is already outside of the normal range, taking arginine supplements may not help lower it.
Lowers Risk of Atherosclerosis
Atherosclerosis, which is hardening of the arteries, is caused by having high LDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking cigarettes and having higher than normal levels of insulin, fibrinogen, LP(a) and homocysteine. LP(a) is lipoprotein helps to transport bad cholesterol (LDL) through the bloodstream. Unfortunately, there isn’t much that can be done about the levels of lipoprotein in the body as it is inherited from your parents.
Homocysteine is a non-protein amino acid that is naturally created by your body. High levels of this amino acid can contribute to hardening of the arteries because it makes blood clot more easily and it damages the lining of arteries. Similar to
lipoprotein, having high levels of homocysteine can be genetic, but there are outside factors that can raise levels of this amino acid including smoking, not having enough folic acid or vitamins B6 and B12 in your diet.
Having low levels of the thyroid hormone in your system, kidney disease and psoriasis can also contribute to high levels of homocysteine. Fortunately, homocysteine levels can be lowered by consuming foods with folic acid in them. Many cereals are fortified with folic acid or people can take folic acid supplements to help lower the levels as well.
Smoking also contributes to hardening of the arteries because it thickens blood and raises the levels of both fibrinogen and homocysteine. Arginine can help lower the risk of atherosclerosis by helping to lower blood pressure, which can also damage arteries, improving blood flow and helping to make blood less sticky, especially in patients with high cholesterol. Blood that is thick and sticky can easily form clots that can get trapped in narrow arteries, causing heart attacks, strokes if the clot travels to the brain or a pulmonary embolism if it travels to your lungs.
Reduces Claudication Symptoms
Intermittent claudication, which is also known as peripheral vascular disease, is the narrowing of the blood vessels in the legs and feet, which is caused by having plaque deposits in the vessels. This condition causes pain in the legs, muscle spasms and fatigue. Pain in the legs becomes severe when walking and the poor circulation in your legs can cause other problems, such as skin breakdown and problems with wound healing.
As arginine assists in the production of nitric oxide, taking it as a supplement can help open blood vessels to relax and open wider. This helps to increase blood flow and help relieve the symptoms of claudication. Those with this condition can take up to 500 milligrams of arginine per day, but those with the herpes virus should only take it under the supervision of their doctor. High levels are arginine can cause severe herpes outbreaks.
In addition to the arginine supplements, magnesium supplements can be taken as well because they help to relax the muscles in the legs, helping to prevent cramps, spasms and pain.
L-Arginine Improves Immune Function
As L-Arginine has been shown to aid in the healing processes, it has also been shown
to help improve the immune system and possibly help to improve cold symptoms. Arginine has been used as an immunonutrient to help improve immune function in people whose immune systems have been compromised by medical conditions.
This amino acid can be depleted in people who have suffered burns, have infections or who have been injured. Arginine supplementation is often given to people in the hospital who have been burned, have sepsis or who have suffered some sort of trauma to the body. Sepsis is the presence of pathogens in the blood or body tissues. It has also been used to treat people with HIV and cancer as well. In fact, some studies show that arginine may have the ability to shrink cancerous tumors.
Trauma to the body, including surgery, can increase the need for more arginine in the body. Arginine is needed to properly form polyamines, which are molecules required by the body’s newly formed T and B cells during their quick growth and proliferation during the early stages of an infection.
Studies have shown that when 12.5 grams per day of arginine, when given to patients with a compromised immune systems, will help shorten their hospital stays, their T-cell counts improved and they had lower infection rates. These improvements were also shown in to occur in patients who were being treated for cancer, HIV and for those who had had surgery.
Arginine and the Common Cold
Arginine may also provide cold support, keeping people from getting the virus who have supplemented with this amino acid. A double-blind study involving 40 children who were prone to getting colds, showed that when given arginine it provided some protection against respiratory infections. Of the children who received the arginine, 15 never got sick during the study. Those children who were given the placebo, only five managed to stay healthy throughout the study, which showed a significant difference.
Arginine Helps with Sexual Dysfunction
Along with improving heart health, arginine can aid in helping resolve sexual dysfunction. A broad definition of sexual dysfunction is the inability to enjoy sexual intercourse. Over 43% of women and about 31% of men are said to have sexual dysfunction.
In women, sexual dysfunction causes a loss of their sexual drive and it can make it
more difficult for them to have an orgasm. Sexual dysfunction in men is commonly known as erectile dysfunction, which is the inability to either achieve an erection or sustain an erection. This problem makes having and enjoying sexual intercourse almost impossible.
Hundreds of studies that have been conducted on sexual dysfunction have shown that arginine can help reduce symptoms of sexual dysfunction. It is known to be a safe and effective prosexual nutrient for both women and men because it improves blood circulation to the body’s extremities. This makes it easier for men to achieve erections and for women it helps to improve their sexual pleasure.
How L-Arginine Helps with Erectile Dysfunction
The main cause of erectile dysfunction is insufficient blood flow. This can be caused by hardening of the arteries or smoking, both of which constrict blood flow. Since the bodies organs need to have fresh blood in order to survive and the blood vessels of the penis are much smaller, not to mention further away from the heart than the organs are, blood doesn’t circulate to it very well.
As arginine helps produce nitric oxide, which helps to dilate blood vessels, it improves blood flow throughout the body, including to extremities like the penis. With increased blood flow, men can achieve and sustain an erection. Some studies that have been done on this issue show that arginine supplements may also help improve fertility in men with low sperm counts or poor sperm movement.
How L-Arginine Helps Women Enjoy Sex Again
Just as with men, increasing blood flow to the extremities can help them find pleasure in having sex. This happens because blood flow to the vagina and clitoris makes them more sensitive and responsive to stimulation, which increases the possibility of achieving a climax. While more studies have been done on erectile dysfunction, studies that have been done with women show that arginine supplements can help postmenopausal women experience greater sexual arousal.
Not only does arginine show promise to help fertility in men, but it is also showing promise in helping women who have fertility issues. One study suggested that arginine could help women improve the chances of standard fertility treatments, especially in vitro fertilization, work better. Taking arginine supplements could help improve the chances of pregnancy in women who have undergone those treatments.
Be Careful with Arginine Supplements
Although arginine has been shown to have many health benefits, most people do not need to take arginine supplements. Healthy people who do not have underlying medical conditions produce enough arginine naturally to not need to take supplements, especially if they have a healthy diet. Many foods have arginine in them, so those foods should be sufficient for supplying people with any arginine that they may need. However, for people with compromised immune systems, they should consult with their doctor before taking extra arginine to help boost their immunity.
Too much arginine can have detrimental effects for some people. Although there is evidence showing that most people can tolerate up to 20 g a day of arginine, it can increase the body’s production of gastrin, which is a hormone that increases the production of stomach acid. It was also found that arginine could increase the risk of esophageal reflux, otherwise known as heart burn, for some people. People who have ulcers or that take medications that are hard on the stomach should refrain from taking arginine unless under the supervision of their doctor.
Even though there are detrimental effects, the benefits of arginine far outweigh the risks and it is important to consult with your doctor about how arginine can benefit you if you have risks of heart disease, high blood pressure or a compromised immune system. If you don’t have those risks, eating a healthy diet can help you experience the natural benefits of arginine.