Arginine is an amino acid. It has several forms, and the L-form (L-arginine) is one of the twenty most common existing amino acids. Arginine is considered a semi-essential amino acid, because whether or not the body can manufacture arginine depends on the stage of development of the individual. Infants cannot make arginine, but adults can. Therefore for adults arginine is considered a non-essential amino acid. Good sources of arginine include dairy products, meat and poultry, and fish. Nuts and chocolate also contain arginine.
Arginine is involved in many body functions, including wound healing, assisting with waste removal from the kidneys, and boosting our immune system and hormone function. Research has shown that arginine may improve blood flow, particularly in the heart, which can have a positive effect on chest pain and heart disease. Since it may help with blood flow, arginine may also improve erectile dysfunction. However, no studies have yet been conducted on the effect of long-term use of arginine on heart health.
Arginine is transformed in the body into nitric oxide (NO). NO is a neurotransmitter that is a vasodilator, which means it causes relaxation of blood vessels and improves circulation. As a result arginine can lower blood pressure. Arginine reduces the healing time for wounds, in particular bone injuries, and speeds healing times in damaged tissues. Finally, arginine has been shown to help remove ammonia from the body, thus helping the kidneys, as well as improve immune function and the release of hormones. Specifically, arginine works with ornithine to stimulate growth hormone production.
Uses and Applications
Because of its effects on blood vessels, L-arginine is often used for heart conditions including heart disease, congestive heart failure, and high blood pressure. Some people combine L-arginine with other medications such as ibuprofen for migraine headaches, or with fish oil and other supplements for improving wound healing and recovering faster after surgery. Arginine is also used as a cream for both male and female sexual problems, based on its ability to improve blood flow.
In terms of fitness, arginine is generally considered to improve cardiovascular performance, which is of interest to many athletes. In addition, a high intake of arginine (about 250 mg per kilogram of body weight) has been shown to stimulate increased production of growth hormone. This effect is of great interest to body builders. A double-blind study published in Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness showed that combining arginine, ornithine, and weight training resulted in a reduction in body fat, higher total strength, and higher lean muscle mass after 5 weeks. There was also a reduction in evidence of tissue damage.
To date, arginine has been shown to be safe and free from major side effects. However, long-term studies of the safety of arginine have yet to be conducted. One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed higher mortality among people taking arginine who had recently had a heart attack, so its use is not recommended for people who have suffered a heart attack in the last few months. There are reports of severe allergic reactions after intravenous administration of arginine, but no allergic reactions from oral administration.
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