L-Arginine: Benefits, Side Effects, and Source

L-arginine, also known as arginine, is one of the twenty most prominent amino acids. As an essential amino acid, the body is capable of naturally producing it, and plays a vital role in being a building material for protein, hormone and enzyme synthesis. It is processed and converted into nitric oxide, which then significantly affects blood cells by opening them wider to improve blood flow and improves the blood supply directed towards the organs.

As a good source of nitric oxide, it also acts as a powerful vasodilator and neurotransmitter that can be used in treating cardiovascular diseases. Arginine is also known for its biological capabilities in producing growth hormones, insulin and other components in the endocrine apparatus. This is also why it has gained prominence among athletes as a dietary supplement.

This amino acid comes with a myriad of benefits involving different areas of health, but it is most commonly used for recovery after invasive operations such as surgeries and pregnancy complications. It is also trusted with treating blood vessel conditions such as chest pain and common high blood pressure.

It is also known to be used for bouts of illness and chronic conditions such as hypertension and type II diabetes, for these conditions tend to increase enzyme, which in turn degrades the presence of arginine in bodies. This is after the occurrence of high blood pressure, and arginine is used not to cure, but to act as a partial remedy.

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Health Benefits

While most still require further studies to officially credit arginine as a treatment, the long list of this amino acid’s benefits are mostly conditions associated with the cardiovascular system, as it promotes this area’s health.

During the process of converting arginine into nitric oxide, vasodilation– the dilation of blood vessels that decreases blood pressure– takes place. This is a method widely known and used in cardiology.

1. Prevents Blood Clots and High Blood Pressure
Nitric oxide prevents the platelets in the blood from sticking together and bonding blood vessel walls. The blood, instead, liquefies and hinders the development of blood clots and varicose veins, and spreads hemorrhoid nodes which are necessary for accelerating the treatment of trophic ulcers.

Pregnancy complications bound by high blood pressure and protein in the urine have also shown to be treated by arginine, for it reduces blood pressure in pregnant women with pre-eclampsia, a condition that affects women during the second half of their conception.

There is evidence that supports how orally taking arginine also reduces blood pressure in otherwise healthy people, people with conditions, and those both with and without diabetes.

Peripheral Arterial Disease, a common circulatory condition that involves the narrowing of blood vessels, can also be remedied through taking arginine by mouth or through an IV and has been proven to increase blood flow in those that have already acquired the condition. This helps the condition but does not create a significant change in walking speed and distance in patients.

Chest pains commonly known as Angina may also be helped by arginine, as it may decrease symptoms and help improve exercise tolerance in patients, but may not go so far as widening the narrow blood vessels that have already been affected by angina.

2. Regulates Hormone Production
A common problem that most people deal with, both consciously and unconsciously, is striking a balance within their hormonal production. When nitric acid enters erogenous zones, the hypothalamus immediately receives a signal that alerts the pituitary glands to control the work of glands that produce hormones.

These 13 hormones working together in helping the body function from different areas all respond to this control and normalizes hormonal background around the body. It then addresses a web of issues involving delayed puberty, impaired menstrual cycles, infertility, erectile dysfunction, and impaired spermatogenesis.

3. Slows Down Tumor Growth
Arginine also prevents and slows down the growth of benign and malignant formations that commonly cause different kinds of cancer. This is due to the amino acid’s ability to activate the antitumor cytotoxicity of macrophages, which describes the prevention of the process of toxicity that develops within a specific type of white blood cell.

It also enables the increase in the functional activity of T-helper cells– which is the primary immune defense unit of the body, the number of natural killer cells and lymphocyte activated killer cells.

Its role with regulating hormones also comes into play, as it stops the development and further spreading of hormone-dependent bumps that may turn into cancers of the breast or prostate.

4. Psychotropic effects
With its role in hormone production also comes its aid in increasing the levels of endorphin and enkephalin in the body, which improves one’s mood and develops proactivity. Many factors can affect the hormones produced in the body, and an insufficient amount of happiness hormones such as dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin may lead to depression and fatigue.

5. Affects Fat Transition
A benefit that is famous among different kinds of athletes is the ability of arginine to aid in bodybuilding, as it increases muscle mass and reduces fat. Since it is a nitric oxide precursor, its contribution to healthy blood flow is said to aid in the delivery of important nutrients to working muscles and assists in the removal of metabolic waste.

It also stops the production of lipocytes, also known as fat cells, and stimulates the production of myocytes, also known as muscle cells. Another bold yet insufficiently studied claim is the ability of arginine to create a significant effect in weight loss with mere supplementation, without having to pair it with any effort or change in diet.

6. Improves Liver Function
With its mentioned ability in removing waste in the body, arginine also plays an essential role in the prevention and treatment of cirrhosis and fatty filtration in the liver, for it helps in the detoxification process. A study conducted in rats has shown that the supplementation of arginine clinically improves the recovery after major liver resection.

Limitations

While arginine covers a wide scope of conditions, it also has some limitations in terms of its effectivity. The following are the health issues that can allegedly be treated with the amino acid, but have either been insufficiently proven or disproved:

1. Heals Wounds
Arginine, through a study in 2013, has been shown to enhance wound strength and collagen deposition creates in artificial incisional wounds tested in rodents and humans. It has been shown that arginine supplementation plays a significant role in normalizing and enhancing the process of healing in human wounds. Despite this, current studies still deem inefficient to fully support this claim.

2. Long Term Kidney Disease
While it aids in the recovery of other major organs such as the liver, taking arginine by mouth or by IV is deemed ineffective in improving kidney function in the case of kidney failure or kidney disease. On the other hand, arginine supplementation may be able to improve kidney function and reverse anemia in elderly people that deal with a kidney disease brought about by anemia.

The effect of arginine supplementation after a kidney transplant is also insufficiently studied, and therefore not recommended.

3. Heart Attacks
While it plays a vital role in improving blood vessels and blood flow, it may not be able to prevent heart attacks or treat them after they have occurred. It may, in fact, even aggravate a recent case of a heart attack if taken after, and supplementation must then be avoided in the meantime.

4. Tuberculosis
A study in 2015 had tested arginine supplementation in active tuberculosis patients and was deemed useful as adjunctive therapy, due to the increased production of nitric oxide in the body, as it had improved constitutional symptoms, enabled weight gain and an improvement in a patient’s BMI. It, however, cannot go so far as clearing the infection.

5. Anal fissures
The effects of arginine supplementation have been inconsistent throughout several tests, and therefore cannot be advised for the general public. One study showed that only 8 out of 13 positively responded to the experiment, and promoted fissure healing with headache as a side effect. The treatment was ineffective for the other 5, most likely because they did not respond to isosorbide dinitrate treatment.

Topical gels with arginine may be effective for those who do not respond well with traditional measures but is not a direct alternative to surgery for anal fissures.

6. Athletic Performance
Arginine supplementation is very popular among bodybuilders and athletes, but its use comes with several gray areas and limitations. Since it helps in building protein in the body, it can also be credited with rebuilding tissue. It also helps deliver important nutrients to working muscles and increases hormone response that therefore increases muscle mass.

It, however, does not help people become stronger. Some studies show that arginine supplementation helps athletes last longer in their workouts and helps the lungs work more efficiently, but does not affect the quality of these exercises.

The increase in nitric oxide in the body also deems to be unreliable in less active and athletic adults. The studies that show its effectivity in certain demographics have been easily countered by its infectivity in other demographics, with reasons remaining undiscovered.

7. Heart Failure
Congestive Heart Failure, commonly known CHF, and the fluid build up in the body that it comes with can be aided with the oral intake of arginine, alongside conventional treatments. It seems to be of help in cases of kidney function among heart failure conditions but is of no effect in improving a patient’s motor skills thereafter.

In turn, taking arginine via IV before exercising has been helpful for patients with heart disease, for it improves blood vessel function. It does not, however, improve the blood flow to the heart in this context.

There is also inconsistent finding in terms of arginine supplementation’s effectivity when it comes to protecting the heart during the surgery of improving the blood flow to the heart called Coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG). While arginine is strongly found to help widen and improve blood vessels, this invasive surgery may be out of its scope. While some studies have shown its effectivity, others deem it unnecessary.

Its function in the blood vessels may not go as far as re-narrowing them after stent placement or angioplasty, the procedure that restores blood flow through the artery. A study showed that arginine supplementation may not be very effective after stent placement in the body, and does not help in improving restricted blood flow. It may, however, help with reducing the artery wall from growing thicker.

8. Fertility
The scope of arginine in terms of aiding fertility comes with inconsistencies as well. While orally taking arginine every day may help in collecting more eggs in infertile women going through IVF, it cannot create an alteration in her pregnancy rates within her first year of trying.

In men, certain conditions that hinder him from getting a woman pregnant within the first year may be aided by arginine, in terms of helping sperm move faster, alongside other medications. However, it does not seem to be effective in helping determine the problem in men with unexplained infertility or improve sperm function and count.

Polycystic ovarian syndrome, widely known as PCOS, affects a significant amount of women. It is a hormonal disorder that causes enlarged ovaries to develop cysts, which in turn creates infrequent, irregular or prolonged menstrual cycles in its patients. Arginine is seen to be of help with improving menstrual function and reducing insulin resistance, but nothing more beyond this.

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Side Effects

With a product that comes with a handful of mixed claims, it is important to remember to consult a doctor before proceeding with supplementation, especially since there have been many minor and severe implications that have come about with its intake.

An arginine overdose can have side effects that range from diarrhea, general weakness, and nausea. This implies a daily intake of more than 10 grams, for arginine, has low degradability within the small intestine, which then affects the water and electrolytes inside the body. The body’s reaction to this specific case is called osmotic diarrhea.

Taking arginine supplements with other drugs such as pain killers, organic nitrates or viagra may indicate a certain reaction chemical reaction. Yohimbine, a supplement commonly used for erectile dysfunction, has an enhanced action when used alongside arginine.

Other common and generally benign side effects that come with arginine are bloating, abdominal pain, airway inflammation, low blood pressure, cold sores, blood abnormalities, allergies, aggravated asthma, and gout.

While it is generally safe, its usage in more serious conditions, however, may come with more severe side effects. This includes death or serious illness in infants when improperly dosed, difficulty regulating one’s blood pressure during surgery, aggravated herpes flare-ups, increased risk of death after a heart attack and negative interaction with other potent medications.

Ultimately, it is important to not proper dosage and caution when taking arginine as a supplement. The Food and Drug Administration is not very meticulous in checking the effectiveness of supplements for they come with different claims and several varieties, therefore making it even more important to choose one’s supplement wisely.

There is a wide selection of arginine supplements available on the internet, and the key to choosing the right one is checking the most reputable sources.

Other sources of Arginine

Since supplements are not for everyone especially since adults already produce a sufficient amount of arginine in their body, another alternative in obtaining arginine is in one’s diet, especially since infants and younger children need more of it.

Plant-based proteins such as chickpeas can be reliable in obtaining a good amount of arginine. Pumpkin seeds have one of the highest concentrations of amino acid, with as much as almost 7 grams of arginine in every cup of pumpkin or squash pumpkins.

Watermelon seeds, although uncommonly eaten, are also a good source, containing about 5 grams per cup. Sesame seeds and soybeans also have about the same amount of arginine in them. Other nuts such as dried walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, chickpeas or garbanzo beans, and lentils also have about 3-4 grams per cup. The preparation of these nuts may slightly affect the concentration of arginine and is best served without added oil or salt.

Another common source of arginine is seaweed, a popular health food, which contains about 4 grams of amino acids per cup. It can easily be paired with most dishes and even eaten of its own.

Although these serve as good sources, the optimal amount can be found in proteins. Animal proteins, such as red meat, chicken breast, turkey breast, pork loin. And dairy products provide a hefty amount of arginine. Those that seem to be deficient in arginine may have to add these to their diets. Turkey breast seems to be the best source, offering up to 16 grams of arginine per serving, while staying low in fat.

For other suggestions in boosting one’s arginine intake, a dietician or doctor may be the best person to consult before resorting to supplements.

There are a lot of factors that come into play in maintaining one’s optimal health, therefore it is essential to know what goes on inside our bodies and understand that whatever we choose to put into them affects how we function and go about our daily lives.

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