What is Arginine?
L-Arginine, or simply arginine, is one of 20 amino acids found in proteins that the body needs to survive. It is an incredibly versatile amino acid and serves as a precursor to numerous other amino acids, including creatine, glutamate (the precursor to glutamine), and proline. Arginine is also necessary for nitric oxide production.
Arginine is a semi-essential amino acid. The body can technically produce arginine on its own, but some individuals require nutritional sources due to health conditions. For example, individuals experiencing physiological stress, such as recovering from an injury, need supplementary arginine. Individuals with reduced kidney or small intestine function also need arginine supplements, as those are the primary places the body biosynthesizes arginine. Periods of pregnancy and infancy also require more arginine than the body can naturally produce.
L-arginine base is a free form of l-arginine and is a central part of the urea cycle, a process that allows the body to dispose of excess ammonia. Urea synthesis is complex and starts by converting ammonia into carbamoyl phosphate. The carbamoyl phosphate then transfers a phosphate group to l-ornithine, which goes on to synthesize citrulline. The citrulline helps form argininosuccinate, the precursor to arginine. Enzymes then reduce the arginine into urea and ornithine. The ornithine returns to the start of the urea cycle, while the urea leaves the body through the urine.
Potential L-Arginine Benefits
Arginine as a Nitric Oxide Booster
Arginine is essential for synthesizing nitric oxide. Nitric oxide promotes vasodilation, allowing blood vessels to relax and expand. It also improves blood flow, which has implications for improving cardiovascular health, exercise performance, and immune function.
L-Arginine and L-Citrulline
L-Arginine and l-citrulline are the most well-researched nitric oxide boosters. While nitric oxide has several beneficial properties, it doesn’t last long in the body. Citrulline is a precursor to arginine and boosts nitric oxide production. Citrulline also synergizes with reduced glutathione (GSH) to sustain the release of nitric oxide by inhibiting its oxidative breakdown.
Arginine and Exercise Performance
One study examined arginine’s effects on athletes over a 45-day period. The athletes taking arginine supplements experienced significant improvements compared to the placebo group. Another smaller study noted that arginine supplements dramatically increased participants’ nitric oxide production. Those taking the arginine supplements were also able to exercise for longer than participants taking a placebo.
Arginine and Heart Health
Boosting nitric oxide promotes cardiovascular health in several ways. It relaxes and reduces the pressure in blood vessels. Arginine also helps ease symptoms of chest pain for a better quality of life. Opening blood vessels also improves circulation, allowing the body to deliver nutrients and oxygen to the entire body more effectively. Improved blood flow may support erectile function in men, too.
L-Arginine and the Immune System
Arginine supports proper immune functioning in several ways. The body uses arginine to develop white blood cells known as T-cells. T-cells are a primary part of the humoral immune response, as they activate B lymphocytes that target specific antigens and foreign invaders. It also expedites the proliferation of lymphocyte immune cells, which accelerates the rate of wound healing.
Potential L-Arginine Side Effects
Studies show that arginine is likely safe in doses as large as 20g. However, this is much larger than the recommended dosage of 600mg. Dosages over 10g may cause upset stomach and diarrhea. Some individuals may experience mild effects, such as bloating, nausea, and stomach pain. Individuals with liver disease, kidney disease, pancreatitis, or low blood pressure should not take arginine supplements without first consulting a physician. Individuals who recently experienced a heart attack should not take arginine supplements.
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