What Is Arginine and Why Do You Need It
L-arginine – or arginine as it’s commonly known – is an amino acid which functions to help our bodies build protein.
Our body can make arginine from food ingested by topping up our levels and taking it as a supplement. Arginine is necessary for the production of nitric oxide which plays a key role in blood flow regulation and communication between cells. Arginine acts as a catalyst in the formation of other amino acids including glutamate, proline and creatine. Most importantly, arginine is considered essential for the healthy functioning of the immune system.
Semi-Essential Amino Acid
Amino acids are split into ‘non-essential’ acids that are made in the body and ‘essential’ acids that you must digest through your diet. L-arginine is considered ‘semi-essential’ meaning in certain circumstances – during pregnancy, following critical illness and after trauma – the body needs it more than at other times.
The Benefits of Arginine
Through its production of nitric oxide, arginine creates an extremely powerful neurotransmitter which improves our bodies’ blood circulation by helping our blood vessels to relax.
Evidence also shows that L-arginine is very beneficial to those who suffer from diabetes as it improves the metabolism of glucose and insulin sensitivity.
Insulin is the hormone which moves blood sugar from our blood into our cells, at which point it is used for energy. Some research has suggested that long-term treatment with an L-arginine supplement may even prevent people deemed at risk of diabetes from developing the disease.
Although further research is needed, L-arginine is generally considered to have potential benefits in terms of tackling the effects of various health conditions such as:
- Heart disease
- Some cancers
- Erectile dysfunction
- Anxiety, amongst others
There is growing evidence that L-arginine supplements may enhance athletic performance due to it increasing the level of nitric oxide in the body. Therefore, the subsequent improvement in blood flow is thought to raise oxygenation in muscles.
Small studies suggest that taking a supplement one hour before intense exercise has enabled participants to exercise at a high level for a longer period when compared to placebo groups.
How Do Our Bodies Produce L-arginine?
Our bodies’ can assimilate L-arginine in two ways:
- It is synthesized (a chemical reaction in our bodies) from another amino acid, L- citrulline, through the breakdown of proteins within our bodies.L-citrulline, when taken as a supplement, also helps to reduce blood pressure and improve erectile dysfunction. It is also thought to improve athletic performance on its own or in combination with L-arginine.
- Our bodies obtain L-arginine through protein intake in our daily diets. It is heavily concentrated in certain foods which are rich in protein, including fish, meat, poultry, nuts, soy and dairy products.
It is reported that from a standard western diet, the average daily intake of L-arginine foods is between 4-6 grams which accounts for between 25%-30% of the L-arginine within our bodies.
In addition to producing L-arginine naturally, we can obtain it via supplements taken as a powder, liquid, capsule or tablet. The dose someone might take would depend upon the symptoms being addressed, but typically range from 1.5g to 6g per day. For maximum absorption, it is recommended to take the supplement between meals.
It can also be added to IV drips administered under clinical supervision. At IV Boost, we offer arginine in our immunity booster drip which combines with a number of complementary ingredients to help support the immune system.
If prescribed by a clinician, the dose may increase to 9g per day, but this higher level could cause some side effects such as bloating, diarrhoea and nausea.
Word of Warning
Before taking extra L-arginine, it’s important to note it has some contraindications – particularly with medications used for blood thinning, blood flow and insulin-based products used to manage and tackle diabetes.
Given that arginine itself is considered helpful to diabetics, it’s important to consult with your medical practitioner before self-administering it in supplement form.