What is L-arginine?
L-arginine is an amino acid that is necessary for the production of proteins needed by the body. It can be obtained from the diet and is usually found in poultry, red meat, dairy products, and meat. It can also be produced in a laboratory for medicine.
How does it work?
In the body, L-arginine is converted into nitric oxide, which is a chemical that dilates blood vessels to improve blood flow. It also helps stimulate the release of insulin, growth hormone, and other body substances. One of L-arginine's most important benefits is its ability to enhance blood circulation to improve fertility, brain power, detoxification, and immunity.
It also helps stimulate hormone production, particularly insulin and growth hormones, which help the cells' intake of glucose to be used for energy and growth. For this reason, L-arginine is believed to help improve a person's strength, stamina, and physical performance. Other health benefits of L-arginine are:
- Fights inflammation
- Reduces the risk of a heart attack and arteriosclerosis
- Blood vessel repair
- Fights coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure (CHF)
- Improves athletic performance
- Normalizes blood pressure
- Boosts immunity
- Relieves muscle pain
- Improves kidney function
- Fights dementia
- Increases thinking capacity
- Helps prevent the common cold
- Helps correct male infertility, impotence, and erectile dysfunction (ED)
To better understand the benefits of L-arginine, let's first learn how nitric oxide works in the body. Nitric oxide is a natural reactive gas, which animals and plants produce. It is a by-product of many chemical reactions and is produced using L-arginine.
L-arginine is usually needed by the endothelium, a thick layer of endothelial cells that line the inside of each blood vessel in the body, to form sufficient nitric oxide to maintain a healthy blood circulation. The role of nitric oxide is to dilate blood vessels and keep people's blood pressure levels within normal range. According to research, as people continue to age, their ability to produce adequate amounts of nitric oxide in the linings of arteries decreases. The good news is that obtaining more L-arginine can help enhance the capabilities of nitric oxide. Aside from producing nitric oxide for better blood circulation, L-arginine holds other important roles in cell replication, fighting oxidative stress, and nerve signaling.
Health Benefits of L-arginine
1. Improves Cardiovascular Health
According to research L-arginine helps improve the health of the cardiovascular system and helps reduce inflammation. For this reason, L-arginine is one of the most recommended supplements by cardiologists. It can help individuals who have an increased risk for stroke, coronary heart disease, or heart attack.
L-arginine boosts cardiovascular health by:
- Improving blood circulation, especially in people with coronary artery disease
- Relieving heart failure
- Lowering high cholesterol levels
- Normalizing high blood pressure
- Improving stamina
- Reducing symptoms associated with claudication (cramping or pain in the lower leg due to poor blood circulation to the muscles)
Since the effects of nitric oxide help prevent the formation of blood clots, L-arginine is also used for the treatment of angina pectoris (chest pain due to coronary heart disease). According to some studies, daily L-arginine supplementation of 2-3 grams has shown to resolve nitrate intolerance in individuals with angina. L-arginine is also capable of improving exercise performance and individuals who have blood circulation problems including a history of cardiovascular disease.
2. Anti-aging and Anti-inflammatory
Aside from cardiovascular benefits, L-arginine also helps fight inflammation, which often leads to disease, as well as strengthen the immune system. It also has the ability to scavenge free radicals because of its effects on superoxide dismutase (SOD), an enzyme with powerful antioxidant properties. Other antioxidants, such as vitamin C and omega 3s, are often used in combination with L-arginine to help slow down the process of aging and the development of chronic illnesses. L-arginine also has positive effects on the immune system and central nervous system.
When it comes to detoxification, L-arginine helps by reducing the levels of ammonia in the blood. For this reason, L-arginine has also been used for the treatment of individuals who have metabolic problems. Ammonia in the body is formed when proteins are broken down by intestinal bacteria. The liver converts ammonia into urea before being excreted in the urine. However, when the liver is unable to convert ammonia into urea, the levels of ammonia in the blood rise, which can lead to inflammation and cellular destruction.
3. Enhances Exercise Performance
Since L-arginine helps improve blood flow, it also means that it can also help bring oxygen and other nutrients to the joint tissues and muscles, and let you enjoy exercising with less pain. In some cases, L-arginine is even used to increase blood flow and heat to cold hands and feet or damaged joints, particularly in individuals who have diabetes, arthritis, or poor blood circulation.
L-arginine supplementation has been beneficial in relieving pain and muscle aches as well as improving walking distance in individuals with intermittent claudication (cramping pain in the leg due to obstruction of the arteries).
It also helps increase the production of the following substances in the body:
- Human growth hormone
- Amino acids (L-proline, creating, L-glutamine)
L-arginine also improves sensitivity to insulin by letting more glucose to enter the cells. Other metabolic roles of L-arginine involve:
- Strengthening muscle tissues
- Relieves inflammation that can lead to joint and bone pain
- Injury repair
- General function of the nervous system
4. Boosts Immunity and Speeds Up Wound Healing
Some people who have chronic diseases, cancer, or trauma have shown low-circulating L-arginine. Such arginine deficiency is believed to be caused by specific immune system suppressor cells called myeloid suppressor cells or MSCs. When L-arginine is used along with omega 3s and other supplements, it helps reduce the risk of lung infections, promotes faster healing of wounds, as well as shorten an individual's recovery time after surgery, disease, or cancer.
5. Helps Treat Infertility Issues and Erectile Dysfunction
According to many studies, L-arginine has shown involvement in the cell replication process aside from enhanced blood flow. Thus, L-arginine can help improve the production of sperm and its motility. It has been observed that men who have heart problems tend to have low levels of nitric oxide in their blood. They are also more likely to have erection problems or fertility issues because an erection usually requires smooth muscle relaxation, which is triggered by NO.
Although L-arginine supplements may not always be effective for all men, according to some studies, around 92 percent of male infertility cases treated with L-arginine along with other antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents produce positive results.
Women can also get reproductive health benefits from L-arginine because it generally helps improve blood flow to genital tissues. Improving blood circulation to these areas can help sexual problems and may help treat infertility issues.
For women who are struggling to conceive, there are studies which suggest that pregnancy rates are improved when L-arginine is used together with N-acetyl cysteine since this combination helps restore women's estrogen levels as well as restore the normal sexual functioning of women who have polycystic ovary syndrome. Apart from N-acetyl cysteine, herbs such as green tea extract and chasteberry, have also shown to improve pregnancy rates.