Arginine, or L-arginine, is one of the 20 amino acids we get from proteins. It is typically considered a semi-essential amino acid, which means the body gets enough of it if you eat a healthy diet. Supplements aren’t usually necessary, but can help people with certain conditions.

Where Can You Get Arginine?

Arginine can be found in several different food products, including red meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, seeds, nuts, whey, leafy vegetables, and fruits.

Turkey is an excellent source of arginine. Try it baked with asparagus and feta cheese, cooked with spices and spinach, or cook up ground turkey for turkey, bean, and avocado taco salad. Nuts, beans and seeds are also great sources; you use a slow cooker to get your arginine fix with a multi-bean soup, or snack on nuts in the afternoon.

Arginine supplements can come in the form of oral tablets or injections. Always consult with your doctor before starting to take any new supplements.

What Does Arginine Do?

One of arginine’s key functions in the body is to convert into nitric oxide. Nitric oxide helps blood vessels relax and expand, which is important for regulating blood flow.

Because of this function, doctors often recommend arginine supplements to help treat heart and blood vessel conditions. These conditions include congestive heart failure, chest pain, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, erectile dysfunction, clogged arteries, and vascular headaches.

Heart Health

There is debate as to whether arginine can prevent heart attacks, and whether you should take supplements after a heart attack. While a Polish study showed that people with acute myocardial infarction experienced no negative side effects from taking arginine, a later study refuted those claims, adding that arginine may be associated with a higher mortality rate.

There is some evidence that arginine can help treat heart failure and chest pain associated with coronary artery disease. However, you should not take arginine supplement without medical supervision, especially after a recent heart attack.

Blood Flow

Because it helps with blood flow, sometimes arginine supplements are used to treat male erectile dysfunction. However, results are mixed. A 2011 study found that oral supplements of L-citrulline, which converts into arginine, showed some improvement in men with mild to moderate erectile dysfunction. However, L-arginine supplements showed no improvement in men, or in women with postmenopausal sexual dysfunction.

Other Uses

Recent studies have shown other positive effects of arginine supplements. A recent Chinese study showed a positive effect on immune system regulation. Another study showed that taking arginine supplements before exercise increased the time to exhaustion in male wrestlers. Other research shows that arginine supplements can help improve glucose tolerance in mice, which means it might have potential in diabetes treatment.

Arginine supplements are often combined with other medications to treat certain illnesses. For example, it can be combined with chemotherapy to treat breast cancer. It can also be combined with ibuprofen to treat migraines, and with other compounds to help post-surgery recovery, wound healing, and to treat infections. Arginine, combined with other amino acids, has also been used to combat weight loss in patients with HIV/AIDS.