Vitamins, Minerals and Dietary Supplements
What is arginine? Why do we need it?
Arginine is an essential amino acid produced naturally by the body. It plays several roles in the body, including an increase in protein synthesis (which promotes wound healing); removal of excess ammonia; stimulation of the immune system; and promoting the secretion of several hormones, including glucagon, insulin and human growth hormone.
Arginine is also a precursor to nitric oxide, which keeps blood vessels dilated and allows the heart to receive an adequate oxygen supply.
Several tests have been conducted on arginine's properties. Large amounts of arginine help wounds heal faster in both animals and humans. Some studies of men with low sperm counts have experience an increase in the number of sperm while taking arginine supplements. There is also preliminary evidence that arginine reduces angina pain and may help regulate blood cholesterol levels.
How much arginine should I take?
Normally, the body makes enough arginine, even when it is lacking in the diet. Most studies on arginine have used between 2-30 grams per day. Arginine is also sometimes combined with arginine prior to physical activity.
What are some good sources of arginine? What forms are available?
Dairy products, meat, poultry and dish are all excellent sources of arginine. Many nuts and chocolate also contain significant amounts of arginine. It is available in powder, tablet or capsule form, and is sold either alone or in conjunction with other amino acids.
What can happen if I don't get enough arginine? What can happen if I take too much? Are there any side-effects I should be aware of?
Because arginine is produced naturally by the body, most people do not need to take extra supplements. However, during times of unusual stress or injury, the body may not be able to produce the necessary amount of arginine. Patients with such conditions should consult with a qualified health care practitioner about arginine supplements.
Individuals with kidney or liver disease should consult with a health care provider before taking arginine supplements. Patients with herpes should not take arginine because it may stimulate replication of the virus.
Large amounts of arginine may both promote and/or interfere with the growth of cancer. While preliminary research has shown that arginine stimulates the immune system, a high intake (>30 grams per day) has also bee associated with increased cancer cell growth in humans. As of this writing, it remains unclear whether arginine is helpful or harmful for people with cancer.
As of this writing, there are no known drug interactions with arginine.
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- Korting GE, Smith SD, Wheeler MA, et al. A randomized double-blind trial of oral L-arginine for treatment of interstitial cystitis. J Urol 1999;161:55865.
- Marcell TJ, Taaffe DR, Hawkins SA, et al. Oral arginine does not stimulate basal or augment exercise-induced GH secretion in either young or old adults. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 1999;54:M3959.
- Smith SD, Wheeler MA, Foster HE Jr, Weiss RM. Improvement in interstitial cystitis symptom scores during treatment with oral L-arginine. J Urol 1997;158:7038.
- Wolf A, Zalpour C, Theilmeier G, et al. Dietary L-arginine supplementation normalizes platelet aggregation in hypercholesterolemic humans. J Am Coll Cardiol 1997;29:47985.