What is arginine?
Arginine is one of the twenty amino acids that make up proteins. It was first isolated in 1886. It was then understood that it plays a very important role in the body’s ammonia removal system. As early as 1939, scientists understood that arginine also plays a role in the process of creatine synthesis. Since then, modern science has worked to determine each of the roles of the amino acid in the body, as well as its properties and benefits.
Amino acids are involved in the elimination of ammonia, the secretion of certain hormones (including growth hormone) and the proper functioning of the immune system. Thanks to arginine, our body produces creatine, a nutrient that is considered non-essential, although it is related to muscle development and function. In addition, Arginine also allows the body to produce nitric oxide a substance that promotes the dilation of blood vessels. For this reason, arginine is often represented as the amino acid of libido!
Since arginine is not considered an essential amino acid, there is no recommended food intake for it. To make sure you consume enough, you just need to eat a balanced and varied diet.
Properties and advantages of arginine
Although arginine is not “essential” to us because our body produces it, it still plays an important role in the overall functioning of our body. Science is now studying its properties and benefits. Numerous studies have been conducted on this subject.
Benefits for the immune system
As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, arginine is involved in the proper functioning of our immune system. In any case, this is what a clinical study on children with respiratory infections showed. Arginine thus stimulates the body’s natural defenses and reduces the frequency of infections.
Arginine is also used in hospitals, especially to treat immunodeficiencies. Although its benefits are still under discussion in the medical community, doctors use it to reduce the length of stay of patients who have undergone surgery. Arginine works in this context, limiting the risks of nosocomial infection and accelerating healing.
Improvement of physical performance
Researchers believe that arginine can improve athletes’ physical performance. This hypothesis is based on the roles that the amino acid plays in the body, such as its involvement in creatine production. This substance is therefore involved in muscle contraction and in the relationship between muscle mass and fat mass. This property is also attributed to arginine for its role in stimulating HGH.
Currently, research shows no real effect of arginine on athletes’ strength or endurance. However, the amino acid seems to work in less fit individuals. In fact, it improves resistance to effort in people with moderate or weak activity. But that is not all. Arginine also seems to increase muscle strength in menopausal women.
It has also been shown to improve exercise resistance in people with congestive heart failure, angina pectoris or heart transplant patients.
The role of arginine in erectile dysfunction
Nitric oxide (NO) acts as a vasodilator in the body. As a result, it promotes the dilation of blood vessels and the influx of blood, which is essential for an erection. The discovery of this substance has led to the development of drugs to treat erectile dysfunctions. These drugs simply block the breakdown of nitric oxide in the body. As a precursor to this substance, arginine can be used to combat erectile dysfunction and improve nitric oxide levels in the body.
In one clinical study, it was shown that arginine effectively improves the quality of erections in men with low levels of nitric oxide when used daily. However, it does not appear to have any effect on men with normal levels.
Arginine and female sexual dysfunction
Menopausal women react physiologically more strongly to arginine and yohimbine. When the amino acid is combined with ginseng, vitamins, ginkgo biloba and minerals, it can significantly improve female sexual function. It is therefore a natural remedy for libido disorders.
Other advantages of arginine
People with mild hypertension can take arginine supplements to lower their blood pressure significantly.
In addition, the results of a preliminary study also show that the amino acid improves the pain-free walking distance of people with intermittent claudication. The results of arginine are also conclusive in this context when administered by injection.
Dietary sources of arginine
Arginine is considered a “semi-essential” amino acid. In general, the body is capable of synthesizing enough to satisfy our needs. However, under certain conditions, the endogenous contribution may not be sufficient and supplementation with arginine may be necessary. This may be the case, for example, after a serious infection, major surgery and trauma.
As it is a protein component, arginine is found in several foods. This is the case with cereals (oats, brown rice, buckwheat), legumes and nuts. These are the main vegetable sources of arginine. The semi-essential amino acid is also found in animal protein sources such as fish, red meat, dairy products and poultry. Arginine is also found in chocolate, spirulina and soy.
Today, concentrated arginine supplements are available in stores. Most of them are synthetic products, although some may be made from natural ingredients. Before buying such a product, find out its composition, origin, method of production, and the amount of arginine it contains.
Is an arginine deficiency possible?
Arginine deficiency is quite rare, but still possible. It is most often characterized by hair loss, poor wound healing and rashes. This deficiency can also manifest itself through hepatic steatosis (degeneration or fatty liver hepatitis) and constipation.
Possible causes of an arginine deficiency can be excessive lysine intake, serious infections or injuries, and disorders that cause the body to produce excess ammonia. Other possible causes are chronic malnutrition and congenital diseases that prevent the normal synthesis of urea. To limit the risk of deficiency or insufficient supply, it is usually sufficient to maintain a balanced diet throughout the year and to ensure adequate protein intake, regardless of the source.
When should arginine be supplemented?
Arginine products such as Genf20 Plus are most often used by bodybuilders, athletes, victims of muscle injuries or people with heart problems. Dosages then depend on the person’s diet. They are usually between three and ten grams per day, which should be taken between thirty and sixty minutes before training or before going to bed.
There are arginine supplements, which are usually prescribed by doctors when necessary. It is relatively rare to use these supplements because our bodies generally manage to synthesize enough arginine. If you suspect that you have a deficiency of this amino acid (or any other nutrient), do not hesitate to talk to your doctor.
Contraindications, Side Effects, and Interactions
Some contraindications and side effects are associated with arginine supplementation. The amino acid also interacts with drugs and other elements (food and plants).
Contraindications to Supplementation
As a general rule, people who have already had a heart attack or who are at high risk of a heart attack should not take dietary supplements containing arginine. This amino acid only increases the risk to the heart and therefore the risk of dying from heart disease. In addition, pregnant and lactating women are advised to refrain from taking supplements due to the lack of complete toxicological information about the amino acid. Finally, arginine supplements are not recommended for people with asthma, allergies, herpes, kidney failure, and liver cirrhosis.
Adverse effects of arginine
As you will have understood, these contraindications refer to arginine supplementation and not to normal consumption as part of a balanced diet. Furthermore, it should be noted that arginine supplementation has few side effects. Therefore, they are benign in most cases and relatively rare. They include headaches, gastrointestinal discomfort and diarrhea.
It is likely that the vasodilatory and antihypertensive effects of arginine are added to the plants, foods and drugs with the same properties. Dietary supplements containing arginine may reverse the effects of lysine treatments. Lysine treatments are most commonly used to treat the herpes simplex virus.
Things to remember
Arginine is an amino acid that is semi-essential to the body and plays several important roles. But this element also has some interesting properties and benefits for our body. To benefit from it, we just need a healthy, balanced and varied diet that includes several sources of vegetable and/or animal protein.
Kat Irving is a reporter for Diving Daily. After graduating from NYU with a master degree in history, Kat got an internship at WABC-TV New York and worked on profiling local businesses. Kat was also was a columnist for the NPR. Kat mostly covers business and community events here at Diving Daily