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The miracle molecule L-Arginine – How it can save your life

L-Arginine History

ArginineL-Arginine was discovered back in 1886. It reportedly came from the extract of a lowly bean. Arginine is an amino acid that can be made in the human body, otherwise known as a non-essential amino acid. A non-essential amino acid is called “non-essential” because it is one that can be made by the human body and so is not essential to the human diet. There are 11 nonessential amino acids: arginine, alanine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine, and tyrosine. There are also essential amino acids. These are amino acids that cannot be made by the body. As a result, they must come from food.

 

Arginine is commonly found in many protein-rich foods. A few arginine-rich foods include steak, turkey, chicken, pork, pumpkin seeds and soy products. In researching this article I also found out on www.nutritiondata.self.com, that sea lion is incredibly high in arginine, but unless your an Eskimo, I doubt that’s an actual menu choice. The average American diet contains somewhere around 3 to 5 grams of arginine a day.

Recent History

L-Arginine has become wildly popular over the past few years due to its ability to create nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator. A vasodilator is anything that opens up or widens your blood vessels. Evidence suggests that arginine may help treat medical conditions that improve with increased vasodilation.

A list of conditions benefited includes atherosclerosis ( clogged arteries ), chest pain, erectile dysfunction, heart disease, heart failure, peripheral vascular disease, and possibly migraines of certain types. Let’s break a few of these down one by one.

Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis is the hardening and narrowing of the arteries. It quietly and slowly blocks arteries, putting circulation at risk. A substance that can open hardened arteries then has an obvious usefulness in it’s treatment.

Chest Pain ( Angina )

A study found here determined that:

“the administration of L-arginine was shown to control ischemic injury by producing nitric oxide which dilates the vessels and thus maintains proper blood flow to the myocardium”

Translation? By opening up the arteries it reduces pain in those who suffer from angina.

Erectile Dysfunction

Besides being the most annoying subject line you can see in an email, erectile dysfunction is a real problem. How does arginine help fight this common problem? Again another study found here puts it this way:

“Penile erection requires the relaxation of the cavernous smooth muscle, which is triggered by nitric oxide (NO). We investigated the possibility of overcoming erectile dysfunction (ED) by increasing the amounts of endogenous NO”

The study concluded … “that oral administration of L-arginine in combination with Pycnogenol causes a significant improvement in sexual function in men with ED without any side effects”. We’ll cover Pycnogenol a little later.
Some people with HIV have also been reported to be using it to help gain or maintain weight.  It has also been used to reduce kidney inflammation. To write a list of all the benefits would be truly exhausting. Arginine is a substance that seems to work well by itself. Combine it with other substances, however, and the list of things it can be used to treat explodes exponentially.

Arginine Studies

There are tons of studies on arginine. Some were good studies, some were bad. The preponderance of the studies shows that arginine is safe and at a minimum a heart-healthy supplement. A few of the not so good studies purport to show that arginine by itself is not effective at boosting nitric oxide levels in healthy adults. Here are a few things to keep in mind about these studies. Firstly, these studies have been performed mostly on healthy adults. It’s important to note that during periods of illness and chronic conditions like hypertension and type II diabetes, the enzyme that degrades L-arginine (known as arginase) increases and this results in an arginine deficiency. So in other words, if your a healthy young athlete who eats plenty of protein and eggs and who has no heart issues, you may not benefit that much from arginine. If you have heart disease? Absolutely you will benefit.

The need to Combine

Any arginine supplementation regime you use to boost nitric oxide should also have L-Citrulline.
Cells in the lining of the gut, as well as arginase, work together to reduce the bio-available amount of arginine that can enter into your bloodstream. This is one reason citrulline is so important. In the body, it is converted into arginine in the kidneys. When citrulline enters the kidneys, it is readily converted to arginine, thereby raising plasma and tissue levels of arginine and enhancing nitric oxide amounts. It bypasses many of the “hurdles” arginine must pass before being released into the bloodstream. It also has a much better rate of absorption. Citrulline increases levels of arginine in the blood more effectively than arginine itself. It has been researched that to get the longest production of nitric oxide it is best to have a 2:1 ratio of arginine to citrulline. A dosage of 2000mg of arginine with 1000mg of citrulline is seen as a potent and effective mixture. If you plan on using an arginine supplement, make sure it has at a minimum both arginine and citrulline.

Does it really work?

On the Mayo clinic website, they have a simple grading system they use to verify or refute purported evidence of vitamins, supplements, and other novel substances. Here is it in full…

A Strong scientific evidence for this use
B Good scientific evidence for this use
C Unclear scientific evidence for this use
D Fair scientific evidence against this use (it may not work)
F Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likely does not work)

What is arginine’s raking with the mayo clinic in regards to heart related problems?
Here are their exact words…

Grade:B
Good scientific evidence for this use
Heart disease There is good scientific evidence that dietary supplementation with L-arginine may help people with coronary artery disease, angina, or clogged arteries, due to its effects on blood vessels. Larger, longer-term studies are needed to confirm these initial positive effects.
Grade:B
Good scientific evidence for this use
Heart failure Arginine has been studied in people with heart failure. Longer-term studies are required to confirm the clinical benefit of L-arginine supplementation in people with heart disease.
Grade:B
Good scientific evidence for this use
Peripheral vascular disease/claudication Peripheral vascular disease, also known as intermittent claudication, is a narrowing of blood vessels in the legs and feet caused by fatty deposits. This condition causes decreased blood flow to the legs and feet, resulting in leg pain and tiredness. A small number of studies report that arginine therapy may improve walking distance in people with claudication. Further research is needed.

How much is needed?

Arginine and Arginine mixed with citrulline can be taken as much as twice a day. When taking arginine alone, a tolerance can be developed so you may occasionally need to up the dose. This should be done slowly as at higher dosages it can cause some to have stomach issues. Taking it twice a day, with the second dosage being taken before bed, offers an added benefit of increasing growth hormone release at night. Unless you have a pituitary disease, having high natural levels of growth hormone is massively beneficial both to fighting aging and you’re overall cardiovascular health. A good starting dosage would be 2000MG of arginine and 1000 of citrulline. Evidence suggests that around 12 Grams is the maximum you can take without serious stomach issues.

Arginine, exercise and life extension

Arginine has come in and out of fashion in the bodybuilding world several times over the years. It was first popularized in the late 1980’s due to a life extension book heavily promoting it. Besides being touted as a vasodilator, it has also been theorized that taking it pre-workout can increase growth hormone secretion. Why do bodybuilders want more growth hormone? Why would you want more? Growth hormone repairs hard-to-heal connective tissue and is used by athletes to heal stubborn injuries like knee problems. It also has effects on the muscles and skin that are anti-aging in nature such as increasing elasticity and volume. An interesting point to note here is that the human body does not stop producing growth hormone with age. It actually produces more growth hormone interrupting chemicals that mask it or slow it down as you age, thereby slowing it’s release into the body. It’s believed that arginine can or may be able to block those interruptive signals.
While arginine’s effects as a vasodilator have been proven true, it’s usefulness in stimulating growth hormone are dependent on when and how you take it. For arginine to work as a growth hormone releaser, the body has to be in the right state for growth hormone release to occur. Growth hormone will is released in the body in more significant amounts when the following conditions are met:
1. Low blood glucose levels
2. Low fatty acids in the blood
3. There can be no other amino acids ( besides citrulline ) to compete with arginine in your system at time of ingestion

Recent studies show that taking arginine just before a workout decreases the amount of growth hormone released during the exercise session! So take it just before a workout is not recommended. There are then, two optimal times to take arginine. One way, if you work out in the morning, would be to take it with some carbohydrates, two and a half hours before your workout. The other way would be to take it at night on an empty stomach or again with some carbs. You could, of course, do both.
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