L-arginine can help diabetics through a number of mechanisms. For example, it may aid in reducing the risk of cardiovascular-related complications such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease. This is because L-arginine creates a chemical in your body that works to relax your blood vessels. Diabetes can complicate this process, however, so it's important to seek treatment from your doctor rather than attempt to self-medicate with L-arginine supplements. Another way L-arginine may help diabetics is by boosting athletic performance, which can aid in building muscle and losing fat.
L-arginine, sometimes simply called arginine, is an amino acid with numerous functions. It helps to make urea, a chemical waste material that helps your body shed ammonia. As an amino acid, it's a building block of protein, so it assists in protein-related functions, such as wound healing and tissue repair. In clinical settings, L-arginine has been used to prevent wasting, or rapid weight and strength loss, in seriously ill patients, and to enhance sperm production as part of fertility treatments.
By making nitric oxide in your body, L-arginine helps vasodilation, and could have important implications for diabetes treatment. Vasodilation refers to the expansion and relaxation of blood vessels. When vasodilation works properly, it helps prevent plaque from building up, and it also eases blood pressure, common complications of diabetes. Diabetes, however, makes it hard for blood vessels to relax. The disease essentially creates competition for L-arginine. It works like this: When your body breaks down L-arginine to make urea, it uses an enzyme called arginase to do so. Diabetics have higher arginase activity that nondiabetics, which means it leaves too little L-arginine behind to formulate nitric oxide. Scientists think this problem can be resolved in diabetics with another amino acid, L-citrulline, and with a type of cholesterol medication. Study is needed to confirm this, however.
Another way L-arginine might help diabetics is through its ability to affect muscle conditioning, crucial to diabetics whose treatment goals include weight loss and increased physical activity. L-arginine helps produce creatine, which supplies energy to muscles. You may have seen L-arginine referenced in a number of sports performance supplements. According to the University of Maryland Maryland Medical Center, L-arginine's role leads to enhancements in endurance, especially in high-intensity, short-duration activities. In addition, L-arginine helps improve blood flow to the muscle, making it popular among those who want their muscles to get bigger and shed more fat. In a Nov. 2006 study in the "American Journal of Physiology: Endocrinology and Metabolism," Italian researchers concluded that long-term supplementation was beneficial in a group of obese Type 2 diabetics on a low-calorie diet and exercise regimen. In the study, a group supplementing with L-arginine not only lost weight, but compared with the control group, they had more fat loss and greater reductions in waist circumference. In addition, they held on to more lean muscle tissue and experienced better glucose profiles.
Consult Your Doctor
Before you begin taking L-arginine, it's important to note the supplements on your health food store are not intended to treat disease. Talk to your doctor about the benefits and possible side effects of taking L-arginine if you have diabetes, especially if you also have other illnesses or take other medicines.
- “Annals of Medicine”; Role of Arginine, Taurine and Homocysteine in Cardiovascular Diseases; L. Nittynen et al.; Oct. 1999
- Science Daily; Diabetes Makes It Hard For Blood Vessels To Relax; Feb. 1, 2008
- "American Journal of Physiology: Endocrinology and Metabolism"; Beneficial Effects of a Long-Term Oral L-Arginine Treatment Added to a Hypocaloric Diet and Exercise Training Program in Obese, Insulin-Resistant Type 2 Diabetic Patients; Pietro Lucotti et al.; Nov. 2006