Supplementation has been used for years to treat a variety of health conditions and to improve overall health. Arginine or L-arginine, ginkgo biloba, and ginseng are commonly used to increase energy and strength, improve cognitive functioning and enhance overall health.
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Arginine is a semi-essential amino acid, necessary for the breakdown of ammonia to urea to eliminate toxic ammonia from the body. Semi-essential means the body can produce the amino acid on its own but in some conditions cannot produce enough. L-arginine is needed to make creatine, an important component of the energy cycle, and stimulates the release of growth hormone. Some evidence indicates arginine may reduce symptoms of angina and coronary disease. Arginine is converted to nitric oxide in the body and causes vasodilation, or relaxation of the blood vessels, which increases blood flow. Possible side effects of L-arginine supplementation are damage to the liver and kidneys, as well as potassium imbalance leading to dehydration. Because L-arginine acts as a vasodilator, supplementation can increase the risk of excessive bleeding. People on blood thinning medication should use caution and speak with their physician about taking L-arginine. L-arginine can exaggerate problems with low blood pressure and increase blood sugar levels. In severe cases, it can lead to anaphylaxis, an allergic condition that can result in shock and death.
Ginkgo biloba leaf extract has traditionally been used to treat circulatory ailments and enhance memory. Ginkgo leaves contain the antioxidants flavonoids and terpenoids. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, laboratory results show flavonoids protect the nerves, heart muscle, retina, and blood vessels from damage. Terpenoids dilate blood vessels and reduce the stickiness of platelets, resulting in improved circulation. Research shows ginkgo supplementation is beneficial in treating intermittent claudication (pain from poor circulation in the legs) and for memory enhancement when taken in doses greater than 240 mg/day. Other research has shown ginkgo to be ineffective in treating Alzheimer's and dementia. Overall, further research is needed to determine the effectiveness of ginkgo. Possible side effects are gastrointestinal discomfort, headaches, skin reactions and dizziness. Ginkgo can also increase bleeding risk, so individuals on blood thinning medication should exercise caution when using a ginkgo supplement.
Ginseng is a herb used to improve overall health and boost the immune system. It is believed by some to enhance recovery from illness, increase stamina, increase mental and physical performance, lower blood glucose and control blood pressure. According to the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, some studies show benefits of ginseng in lowering blood pressure and improving the immune system. Preliminary research does not support other health benefit claims for the herb. Possible side effects of ginseng are headaches, gastrointestinal discomfort and problems with sleep. Ginseng supplementation can increase the risk of bleeding. Individuals with high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, or a bleeding disorder should consult their physician before taking ginseng.
L-arginine, ginkgo biloba, and ginseng have been used for years to treat a number of ailments and improve body functions and overall health. Minimal research confirms the benefits of each of these supplements. They have potentially harmful side effects and negative interactions with other medications. It is always best to consult with your physician prior to starting any supplementation.