What is arginine?

Arginine, or L-arginine, is one of 20 amino acids that you get from proteins in your diet. It’s typically considered a semi-essential amino acid. That means you can usually get enough of it from diet alone.

If you eat a well-balanced diet, you probably don’t need to take arginine supplements. But if you have certain health conditions, your doctor may recommend adding them to your routine. In other cases, your doctor may encourage you to avoid them. For some people, taking arginine supplements may actually increase their risk of health problems.

Arginine is found in several different food products, including:

  • red meat
  • poultry
  • fish
  • dairy
  • seeds
  • nuts
  • beans
  • leafy vegetables
  • some fruits

For example, turkey, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, and soybeans are rich sources of arginine.

Most people can get enough arginine from a well-balanced diet. But arginine supplements are also available in the form of oral tablets or injections. Always consult your doctor before trying any new supplements, including supplemental arginine. They can help you assess the potential health benefits and risks.

Your body uses arginine to synthesize nitric oxide. Nitric oxide helps your blood vessels relax and expand. This is important for regulating your blood flow.

Your doctor may recommend eating arginine-rich foods or taking arginine supplements if you have certain conditions that affect your blood vessels and heart. For example, they recommend taking arginine supplements to help treat coronary artery disease, peripheral vascular disease, or erectile dysfunction. In other cases, arginine supplements may increase your risk of heart problems.

Cardiovascular health

According to the Mayo Clinic, arginine supplements may have benefits for people with certain cardiovascular conditions. For example, they may help treat:

  • coronary artery disease
  • clogged arteries
  • angina

Arginine supplements may also have perks for people with peripheral vascular disease (PVD). This condition develops when your arteries narrow and reduce blood flow to your limbs. Most people with PVD develop it in their legs.

On the other hand, the Mayo Clinic warns that taking arginine supplements after a heart attack may make matters worse. They actually increase your risk of dying after a heart attack. More research is needed to assess the benefits and risks. Until the potential safety issues have been addressed, avoid taking arginine supplements after a heart attack.

If you have a history of heart disease, ask your doctor about the potential benefits and risks of arginine supplements. Depending on your health history, they may encourage you to take or avoid them.

Erectile dysfunction

Many cases of erectile dysfunction (ED) may be linked to heart disease. Problems with your blood vessels can reduce the flow of blood to your penis. This can make it difficult to develop and maintain an erection.

According to the Mayo Clinic, some research suggests that arginine supplements may help improve blood flow through your body. Due to these purported benefits, doctors sometimes prescribe arginine supplements to treat ED. In fact, early studies have found that arginine supplements may help alleviate ED in men with low nitrate levels. A study reported in Urology also found that oral supplements of L-citrulline may help treat mild to moderate ED. Your body converts L-citrulline into L-arginine.

Other uses

Recent studies suggest that arginine supplements may have other benefits too.

For example, a research review published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that arginine supplements may have positive effects on your immune system. Some doctors prescribe them alongside other treatments to help:

  • fight infections
  • promote wound healing
  • support post-surgery recovery
  • complement chemotherapy

Another study, reported in Biology of Sport, found that taking arginine supplements before exercise increased the time it took for male wrestlers to become exhausted. Other research, reported in Endocrinology, found that arginine supplements can help improve glucose tolerance in mice. This suggests they might have potential for treating diabetes. More research is needed.

Arginine is an amino acid that your body uses to synthesize nitric oxide. If you have a well-balanced diet, you probably get enough arginine from the foods you eat. But if you have a history of certain health conditions, your doctor may recommend taking arginine supplements. In other cases, they may encourage you to avoid them. Taking arginine supplements may make some health issues worse.

Always talk to your doctor before adding arginine supplements to your routine.