L-arginine is one of 20 amino acids produced in the body that is needed to make protein. It is considered a semiessential amino acid because although your body generally can make adequate amounts, levels of this amino acid naturally decrease with age and with stress-related conditions. Arginine is sold in many health food stores as a supplement and can also be obtained in some dietary foods. Supplementation is not reserved for men alone, as arginine has multiple well-proven benefits for women, as well.
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Function in the Body
L-arginine is a unique amino acid due to its vasodililatory properties. Arginine is the chemical precursor to nitric oxide, which is able to widen blood vessels, the action referred to as vasodilation, according to health professionals at the Mayo Clinic. It also triggers the body to make protein and is beneficial in healing wounds, burns and treating numerous heart conditions such as chest pain, heart disease and clogged arteries.
L-arginine can also be of benefit for those trying to get pregnant. The human body depends on L-arginine for the production of sperm, and many studies have shown it to be extremely beneficial for men who have low sperm counts. According to Medline Plus, arginine supplementation can aid in erectile dysfunction and male infertility. Applying L-arginine as a cream helps to increase blood flow and is used for sexual problems in both men and women.
Exercise and Weight Loss Benefits
Arginine is needed for the synthesis of creatine, which is important for muscle contraction and helps to supply energy to all cells in the body. It is used to improve athletic performance, stimulate the release of growth hormone and reduce fatigue during workouts. Arginine can aid in the reduction of body fat by improving the body's nitrogen balance, allowing increased metabolism and conversion of protein into muscle mass. A study in the "Journal of Applied Physiology" showed that supplementation with arginine enhanced high-intensity exercise tolerance, allowing participants to extend their workout duration and exercise efficiency.
The Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center states that supplementing with arginine along with antioxidant vitamins may reduce the incidence of pre-eclampsia in high risk women. When combined with over-the-counter medecine such as ibuprofen, it is also able to decrease the pain of migraine headaches. Other benefits include enhanced immune function, decreased shock experienced by severely burned patients, and it is used to shorten recovery time after surgery.
L-arginine is generally well tolerated when taken orally, delivered intravenously or applied to the skin, according to the Mayo Clinic. Side effects may include bloating, diarrhea, gastrointestinal discomfort, hives, nausea, rash, lack of energy, vertigo or increased blood pressure in heart transplant patients. Always discuss supplementation or dietary changes with your doctor.
- MayoClinic.com; Drugs and Supplements: L-arginine; July 2011
- Journal of Applied Physiology; Acute l-arginine Supplementation Reduces the O2 Cost of Moderate-Intensity Exercise and Enhances High-Intensity Exercise Tolerance; Stephen Bailey, et al.; August 17, 2010
- Medline Plus; Drug Info: L-arginine; July 14, 2011
- Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center; Cancer Information: Integrative Medecine: Arginine; May 2011