What You Should Know About L-Arginine, Nitric Oxide, and Bipolar Disorder

Medically reviewed by Susan J. Bliss RPh, MBA on October 22, 2015Written by Brian Wu, PhD on October 22, 2015

Bipolar disorder, also known as bipolar affective disorder or manic depression, is a very serious mood disorder. The symptoms of bipolar disorder can be severe. If you have this disorder, you may not understand why you are so depressed or hyper, or what’s happening to you. You may feel hopeless, reckless, suicidal, or violent.

People with bipolar disorder can have severe mood swings. There are high or manic periods where you’re very happy and feel like you are on top of the world. These high moods can be followed just as quickly by extreme lows or severe periods of depression.

Genetics probably plays a role in the development of bipolar disorder, but there’s a lot that remains unknown about this disease. If you think you’re depressed or have symptoms of bipolar disorder, you should consult a doctor right away for treatment.

L-Arginine and Nitric Oxide

Researchers have tried to determine exactly what causes bipolar disorder. One study has suggested that the L-arginine-nitric oxide pathway may be linked to the development of bipolar affective disorder.

L-arginine is an amino acid that is made by the body. Foods that contain proteins also have L-arginine. In your body, L-arginine is converted into nitric oxide (NO), which causes your blood vessels to open wider. This helps to improve blood flow. NO is made from L-arginine by NO synthase.

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Bipolar Disorder and Nitric Oxide

NO may play a part in psychiatric disorders including bipolar disorder. One study has shown that nitric oxide levels were increased in people with bipolar disorder. This suggests that there may be a link between the two. However, there aren’t enough studies to determine if there’s truly a connection between NO levels and bipolar disorder. More research is needed.

L-Arginine Side Effects

You should be careful when using L-arginine because it can have dangerous side effects, including low blood pressure. According to the Mayo Clinic, L-arginine use has been associated with death in some people with heart conditions, and it interacts with many medications. When taken with other medications, such as aspirins, blood thinners, or antiplatelet drugs, L-arginine can increase your risk of bleeding. It can also interact with heart, potassium, or nervous system medicines.

L-arginine can also affect your blood sugar levels. If you have diabetes, it’s not recommended unless prescribed by your doctor.

L-arginine increases erections and improves libido, so it shouldn’t be used with any similar drugs such as sildenafil (Viagra). If the two drugs are used together, it can be very dangerous.

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So much is still unknown about L-arginine, and no long-term studies currently exist. The effects of NO are also still being studied. It’s important to talk with your doctor if you’re having problems with depression or if you think you may have bipolar disorder.

You should never try to self-diagnose bipolar disorder or treat bipolar disorder by yourself. This disorder can cause you to be a danger to yourself and others.

Prescription medications, such as lithium, have proven to produce results. Some L-arginine or NO supplements on the market may claim to help, but you should proceed with caution. You should never stop taking any medications or begin taking any new ones, including supplements, without consulting with your doctor first.

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