Arginine, often referred to as L-arginine, is an amino acid that's present in most proteins. Arginine plays a role in the formation of nitrous oxide, which is a vasodilator, or blood vessel-widening agent. According to MayoClinic.com, L-arginine may help treat conditions caused by poor circulation, such as Raynaud's phenomenon. Always talk with your doctor before you begin taking a supplement.
Raynaud's is referred to as a disease when it is the primary illness not accompanied by another disease. The condition reduces the circulation in your hands and feet, leading to numbness that is most prevalent in the cold. When exposed to cold or when you are under stress, your blood vessels contract, preventing sufficient blood flow. The disease is called "Raynaud's phenomenon" when it's paired with another underlying condition. Other conditions often associated with Raynaud's phenomenon include heavy smoking, lupus, carpal tunnel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis and chemical exposure.
Your fingers usually turn white when exposed to cold or when you're stressed. Often, moving to a warmer place or getting calm relieves the symptoms of Raynaud's. Nutritional supplements that may help relieve symptoms include vitamin B-3, or niacin, that serves as a vasodilator and may be quicker acting than arginine. Vitamins high in antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, may help reduce oxidative stress that causes blood tissue damage. Omega-3 fatty acids may improve circulation as well. While arginine is a common supplement used to treat Raynaud's, some studies showed it did not increase circulation in the fingers and toes, according to Global Information Hub On Integrated Medicine.
L-arginine is available as a cream that you can rub on your fingers and toes to increase circulation, according to MedlinePlus. Diabetics commonly use the cream to spur blood flow in their extremities. The cream also can stimulate blood flow to the penis to treat sexual dysfunctions. The amino acid is effective for speeding wound recovery after surgery and reducing the number of infections that occur after procedures. If you experience cramping or pain in your legs or hands when blood flow is restricted, L-arginine can relieve the discomfort.
You should consult your doctor before using arginine supplements or creams to relieve side effects of Raynaud's disease to prevent complications or interactions with other ongoing treatments. While the amino acid is generally safe for most people, it can cause bloating, diarrhea, gout and abdominal pain. It may lead to blood abnormalities or airway inflammation. Arginine may worsen asthma symptoms and cause low blood pressure. You shouldn't use L-arginine if you take medication for high blood pressure or nitrates to improve circulation. You may experience excessively low blood pressure if you use it in conjunction with other male sexual-enhancing drugs.