Arginine is one of the amino acids produced in the human body by the digestion, or hydrolysis of proteins. Arginine can also be produced synthetically. Because it is produced in the body, it is referred to as "nonessential," meaning that no food or supplements are necessary for humans to ingest. Arginine compounds can be used in treating people with liver dysfunction due to its role in promoting liver regeneration.
In March 2000 in Newsweek magazine, Stephen Williams noted the newly discovered role arginine might play in treating people with chronic heart failure (CHF). The study, as reported in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology involved 40 patients who suffered from CHF. Rainer Hambrecht and colleagues from the University of Leipzig in Germany did the research by dividing the group into four sections. One group took 8 g of arginine daily for four weeks. A second took no supplement, but did daily forearm exercises. The third did both the exercises, and took the supplement daily. The fourth group was a control group and did nothing except taking their usual medication, as did the others. Because of the known fact that arginine is naturally converted into nitric oxide by the human body, the result of that chemical relaxing blood vessels was also known when the experiment began. The group that took the arginine alone showed an improvement in their blood-vessel dilation by four times, as did the group doing exercises alone. The third who did both, showed an increase six times better than the original blood-dilation factor. Promise in the future use of arginine in treating heart patients with this condition was indicated as researchers continued to perform further tests. According to an article by Liz Brown written in Better Nutrition in June 2000, also discussing the Leipzig study, "Numerous other studies have shown that arginine has a vadodilatory effect on people with high cholesterol levels, those with high blood pressure and others with compromised circulation associated with heart disease."
Other research in the use of arginine has indicated that arginine is crucial to the wound-healing process, particularly in the elderly for whom blood circulation is poor. Arginine is necessary for growth periods but not for body maintenance.
Benefits of the use of arginine as a supplement include:
- improves immune response to bacteria, viruses, and tumor cells.
- promotes wound healing by repairing tissues
- plays a crucial role in the regeneration of liver
- responsible for release of growth hormones
- promotes muscle growth
- improves cardiovascular functioning
Arginine is used as a supplement in the treatment of heart patients with arterial heart disease; as an intravenous supplement to patients with liver dysfunction; as a supplement for easing exercise-related pains due to the heart muscle not getting enough blood to circulate to the muscles in the calves. Supplements that combine arginine with other amino acids, such as ornithine and lysine, are purported to assist in muscle-building exercises by minimizing body fat and maximizing muscle tone. Results vary among those who have taken these supplements. Arginine is also present in "multi" amino acids capsules that are taken as a dietary supplement.
New information released in 2002 showed that treatment with arginine improved immune function in HIV patients and proved safe for these patients when used on a short-term patients. Other new research was finding that arginine supplements worked as an effective anticoagulant, but unlike aspirin and other anticoagulants, could prevent clotting without increasing stroke risk. New research also is showing arginine's effectivenss in fighting cancer and protecting and detoxifying the liver, improving male fertility, and promoting healing.
Arginine supplements as an alternative medicine therapy are normally taken in either tablet or capsule form. In naturopathic treatment of liver dysfunction, the supplement would be added intravenously as a powder diluted in liquid. Discoveries reported in 2000 indicated that in the treatment of arterial heart disease, the ingestion of arginine tablets or capsules of 6–9 g a day are helpful in dilating blood vessels to ease circulation and prevent the buildup of cholesterol.
Long-term effects of arginine supplements have not yet been determined. Consultation with a physician regarding individual needs is always advised. Individuals who attempt to treat their own heart ailments, or intend to guard against any potential difficulty, should seek advice of a physician. Arginine does not show any positive results in treatment of men with damaged valves or enlarged heart tissue.
Arginine has been suspected in the formation of cold sores. Some practitioners suggest that consuming foods high in arginine, such as nuts, grains, and chocolates, can promote cold sores. Reducing intake of foods high in arginine and increasing intake of lysine (another amino acid) can reduce or even eliminate the cold sore problem.
As previously noted, the use of supplemental arginine should be monitored for use with specific problems. Overdose could result in unforeseen complications, while regular use might or might not help ease everyday problems, such as relaxation of muscles not due to the specific heart ailment of arterial disease. People who should not take arginine supplements are those predisposed
Long-term studies are ongoing. While no adverse reactions of ordinary supplements of 6–9 g a day have yet been documented, caution is urged. Because amino acids are not drugs, their use is not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). One study in April 1999 in HealthInform: Essential Information on Alternative Health Care reported that nutritional supplements of arginine with omega-3 fatty acids for outpatients with HIV showed no particular benefits in immunity.
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Teresa G. Odle