Arginine is an interesting amino acid. It is considered “essential” (meaning it is required in our diet) in infants and children whose synthesis pathways are undeveloped, and “conditionally essential” (meaning that some is required in our diet) in adults. Arginine is usually sufficient in our diets – it is found in meat, poultry, dairy, seafood, whole grains, nuts, seeds and even chocolate – but in certain situations is also taken as a supplement. As with all amino acids, look for the L-arginine form.
An important function of arginine is the production of the gas nitric oxide (NO). NO lowers blood pressure by relaxing the smooth muscles of the endothelium (lining of the blood vessels) thus dilating the arteries. This process increases blood flow when partially blocked arteries to the heart cause angina pain, or to the leg muscles cause intermittent claudication. Nitroglycerine works similarly in treating angina by releasing NO. NO is also essential for penile erections, so arginine is often used for erectile dysfunction.
Arginine has several other uses. Taken with RNA and the essential fatty acid EPA, arginine improves wound healing, especially bone injuries, and shortens post-surgery recovery time. Arginine is sometimes taken along with ibuprofen for migraine headaches. Arginine also plays an essential role in the detoxification and elimination of ammonia through the liver and kidneys.
There are several important cautions regarding arginine supplementation:
· do not take arginine if you have had a recent heart attack
· arginine may be helpful with congestive heart failure, but use with medical supervision.
· take under medical supervision if you are on prescription drugs for high blood pressure or angina
· stop two weeks before surgery, resume a few days after
· women: avoid during pregnancy and breastfeeding
· men: use caution if you take arginine along with sildenafil (Viagra) as the combination may lower blood pressure too far
· avoid if you are subject to cold sores as arginine reduces the absorption of another amino acid, lysine, which is believed to play a role in combating herpes simplex infections.
Despite all the precautions, arginine supplementation can be safe and effective in certain conditions. I’ll explore more about lysine and its relationship with arginine next week.
For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.