What Is It?
The amino acid arginine is acquiring a reputation for keeping the body’s biggest muscle–the heart–in tip-top shape. In fact, this workhorse nutrient performs numerous vital functions, facilitating the healing of wounds and promoting the secretion of key hormones such as insulin and glucagon.
Most adults don’t need to take this nonessential amino acid in supplement form because it’s so readily obtained through a wide range of foods, including meats, poultry, fish, dairy products, and nuts. (The body actually manufactures arginine by digesting the proteins in these foods.) But a few important exceptions merit attention. Arginine supplements appear to reduce mildly elevated blood pressure by enhancing the synthesis of nitric oxide (a gas) in the cells that line the blood vessels. This helps dilate vessel walls and improve blood flow around the heart. In fact, nitric oxide ranks as the body’s most potent blood vessel expander.
Arginine supplements may also inhibit the buildup of plaque and other substances that can harden blood vessels, a condition known as atherosclerosis. Recent findings indicate that this amino acid may lower cholesterol as well. Its positive effect on circulation makes it potentially useful for treating coronary artery disease; here blood flow to the heart is limited and causes damage to this muscle. Arginine may also benefit angina (chest pain), a condition associated with tightening of vessels around the heart.
In addition, arginine may help in treating male infertility caused by circulation problems.
Don’t take arginine if you are taking other drugs that dilate the blood vessels, such as nitroglycerin or sildenafil (Viagra). Note: For information on interactions with specific generic drugs, see our WholeHealth Chicago Drug/Nutrient Interactions Chart.
While arginine is considered quite safe, it could potentially worsen certain conditions because of the way it affects the body. Consult your doctor before taking arginine supplements if you suffer from migraines or have kidney problems, a liver disorder, breast cancer, Crohn’s disease, or rheumatoid arthritis.
Don’t take arginine supplements if you have genital herpes or are prone to cold sores. It can trigger outbreaks of these disorders.
If you use arginine supplements for longer than one month, take them with an amino acid complex that contains a variety of amino acids. This will ensure that you get a proper balance of all amino acids. Ailments Dosage Angina 500 mg L-arginine 3 times a day on an empty stomach High Blood Pressure 1,000 mg L-arginine twice a day Infertility, Male 1,000 mg L-arginine 3 times a day
A workhorse among amino acids, arginine toils to keep an array of bodily functions working smoothly, including helping the mightiest muscle of all, the heart. The body produces arginine by digesting certain proteins from foods, and in truth, most people don’t need to take it in supplement form—it’s present in such a wide range of foods, including meats, poultry, fish, dairy products, and nuts. But a few important exceptions merit attention. Supplements are specifically proving useful for helping the heart, reducing blood pressure, lowering cholesterol, relieving angina, boosting immunity, reversing impotence, and forestalling complications with diabetes.
HOW IT HELPS HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE
Arginine is converted into nitric oxide, a gas, in the cells that line the inside of your blood vessels. And nitric oxide is the body’s most potent blood vessel expander. So the thinking is that as long as stores of arginine are plentiful, there will be plenty of nitric acid to do the work of opening up constricted blood vessels and improving blood flow around the heart. It’s in this way that arginine can apparently reduce mildly elevated blood pressure and, by extension, decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke. Recent research also indicates that arginine supplements may work in a way similar to popular blood pressure medicines known as “ACE” (angiotension-converting enzyme inhibitors).
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Arginine is one of several nonessential amino acids, meaning the body can produce it on its own. Supplements are now available, however.
Arginine is available in capsules of 500 mg to 1,000 mg. Take them at least an hour and a half before or after meals, and at a different time of day than any mixed amino acid supplement.
Some nutritionally oriented physicians contend that in order to prevent an imbalance of amino acids in your body as well as give your system a periodic break, you should: Take an amino acid complex in addition to any single amino acid that you’re on for more than one month. Take periodic “holidays” from single amino acid therapy: two months “on” followed by a month “off,” for example.
Although arginine is virtually free of side effects, a few points are worth mentioning: If you have coronary artery disease or peripheral vascular disease, the dosage of medications commonly taken to treat them may need to be adjusted if you take arginine supplements.
People with genital herpes and recurrent cold sores should actually avoid arginine-rich foods and arginine supplements. Apparently, this amino acid can trigger outbreaks of these disorders by encouraging the herpes virus to reproduce itself.
Be sure to talk to your doctor if you’re interested in taking arginine to help control your blood pressure. If you have any serious illness, take amino acid supplements only with your doctor’s knowledge and approval.
For product recommendations and orders click here for the Natural Apothecary or call 773-296-6700, ext. 2001.
David Edelberg, MD