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What is arginine?

Arginine is a conditionally essential amino acid, which can be produced in your body from other amino acids, but in certain circumstances, such as young age or heavy illness, you may need to obtain additional amounts from foods in order to be healthy [7]. In foods, arginine is incorporated into proteins.

Arginine abbreviation (symbol): Arg

Arginine Functions in the Human Body

Arginine is [1,2]:

  • A building block of proteins
  • Important for the production of nitric oxide (NO), which widens the arteries, detoxification of nitrogenous wastes and stimulation of growth hormone release
  • A glucogenic amino acid — it can be converted into glucose [12]
  • A basic (pH >7) amino acid [11]

Foods High in L-Arginine

  • ANIMAL FOODS: meat, fish, cheese [3]
  • PLANT FOODS: wheat, nuts, seeds and beans [3]

Foods low in arginine: fruits, vegetables [3]

Low-Arginine Diet

Individuals with the genetic disorders ornithine aminotransferase deficiency and guanidinoacetate methyltransferase deficiency should avoid arginine from foods and supplements [5].

Arginine Supplements

Nonprescription (over-the-counter) oral L-arginine supplements and dermal patches are available. Prescription L-arginine intramuscular injections

L-Arginine Health Benefits

L-arginine supplements are POSSIBLY EFFECTIVE in the treatment of certain inborn errors of urea synthesis [2,4,6]:

L-arginine supplements are POSSIBLY INEFFECTIVE [2,4] in the prevention or treatment of asthma, heart attack, high blood pressure during pregnancy (preeclampsia/eclampsia), interstitial cystitis (bladder inflammation), kidney disease or wound healing.

There is INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE [2,4] about the effectiveness of L-arginine supplements in the prevention or treatment of adrenoleukodystrophy, altitude sickness, anal fissures, angina pectoris (heart-related chest pain), anxiety, autonomic failure, birth defects, burns, cachexia (weight loss in cancer), cancer (breast, head, neck), chemotherapy, common cold, coronary heart disease, cramping leg pains (intermittent claudication) due to blocked arteries, dental caries, diabetes mellitus type 2, diabetic foot ulcers, erectile dysfunction, fatigue, female sexual problems, glutaric aciduria type I [5], heart failure, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, HIV/AIDS related muscle wasting, homocystinuria [5], lysinuric protein intolerance [5], male infertility, migraine headache, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), pressure ulcers, Raynaud’s phenomenon, respiratory infections, scleroderma, senile dementia, sickle cell disease or tooth sensitivity, or in improving athletic performance, cognitive function, immunity, weight loss or wound healing.

L-arginine and Growth Hormone

L-arginine supplements can stimulate the growth hormone release at rest, but it is not known if this can increase the muscle mass [8,9].

Exercise alone or L-arginine supplements alone stimulate growth hormone release, but according to some studies, the combination of pre-workout L-arginine and resistance exercise can actually decrease the growth hormone release and therefore has no anabolic effect on the muscles [9,10].

Arginine Safety: Side Effects, Toxicity

L-arginine supplements when taken by mouth or as intramuscular injections or skin patches in recommended doses for short periods, are POSSIBLY SAFE for most adults and children [2].

Side effects may include abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, gout, blood abnormalities airway inflammation and low blood pressure [2]. In one study, the optimal oral dose that did not cause gastrointestinal upset was 6-9 grams [9].

L-arginine may trigger allergic reactions in sensitive individuals and may worsen asthma or herpes infection (cold sores) [2].

Who should not take arginine supplements?

Do not take l-arginine during pregnancy and breastfeeding, or after a heart attack and at least two weeks before scheduled surgery. In children, L-arginine in high doses may have serious side effects, including death [2].

L-Arginine Interactions With Drugs

L-arginine is POSSIBLY SAFE for most people when taken in recommended doses by mouth, as an intramuscular injection or skin patch fr short periods [2].

L-arginine may increase the effects or side effects (dizziness) of medications for high blood pressure (amlodipine, captopril, diltiazem, enalapril, furosemide, hydrochlorothiazide, losartan or valsartan) or medications that increase the blood flow to the heart (nitroglycerin, isosorbide) and viagra [2].

  1. L-arginine  PubChem
  2. L- arginine  MedlinePlus
  3. List of foods high and low in arginine  US Department of Agriculture
  4. L-arginine, evidence  Mayo Clinic
  5. van Vliet D et al, 2014, Single amino acid supplementation in aminoacidopathies: a systematic review  PubMed Central
  6. Brusilow SW et al, 1984, Arginine, an indispensable amino acid for patients with inborn errors of urea synthesis  PubMed
  7. Morris SM, 2006, Arginine: beyond protein  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
  8. Kanaley JA, 2008, Growth hormone, arginine and exercise  PubMed
  9. Collier SR et al, 2005, Growth hormone responses to varying doses of oral arginine  PubMed
  10. Chromiak JA et al, 2002, Use of amino acids as growth hormone-releasing agents by athletes  PubMed
  11. Acidic and basic amino acids  University of Wisconsin–Madison
  12. Amino acid  ChemPep

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