Power Up with Arginine
The amino acid L-arginine as a supplement had been largely relegated to the sports nutrition realm for decades. This is changing in recent years as the primary benefit for which athletes relied on this amino is becoming increasingly studied and its importance to health is more widely understood and appreciated. We will look at the many functions of this "old-school" supplement which is back at the head of today's class.
Profound Cardiovascular Benefits/Nitric Oxide
In a nutshell, arginine improves blood circulation. Athletes and gym-rats have used it to boost exercise capability and increase "pumps" since it brings more blood to muscles allowing for greater (temporary) strength for workouts. For this reason it is a key ingredient in hundreds of products designed for the sports/workout community. How it achieves this improvement in circulation is where current interest lies. Arginine stimulates the synthesis of a compound called nitric oxide in the endothelium lining of the vascular system. Nitric oxide is a gas which relaxes the blood vessels, thereby lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow (circulation). This sounds simple, yet it has powerful ramifications for overall cardiovascular/heart health. It has been said that the inability of endothelial cells to produce adequate amounts of nitric oxide is most likely a primary cause of hypertension, stroke, heart attack, and erectile dysfunction. (For more information on nitric oxide, see our newsletters.)
A reduction in nitric oxide also causes damage/inflammation to the artery wall, exacerbating and/or contributing to atherosclerosis. It is possible that C-reactive protein, the main marker for cardiovascular inflammation, may affect the NO (nitric oxide) pathway, thus causing a vicious cycle of damage and poorly functioning blood vessels. A study at Stanford using 43 patients with high cholesterol found that 6 grams (about 1.5 teaspoons) of arginine resulted in significant improvements in vasodilation, the ability of the blood vessels to relax, increase in diameter, and improve blood flow. An Italian study found that volunteers on an arginine-rich diet or who were taking arginine supplements had significantly lower blood pressure than those in a control group on a standard diet. Supplemental arginine has also been shown to reduce plaque thickness, decrease angina, and improve functional capacity in patients with congestive heart failure.
Another condition linked to cardiovascular health, though people may not associate the two, is erectile dysfunction. Arginine increases blood flow to the peripheral genital region in males (and females). In males, this translates to direct involvement in the formation of erections. Not only is blood flow to the penis increased, but NO triggers the relaxation of smooth muscle tissues that allow engorgement. This is essentially the mechanism by which the drug Viagra works. Arginine is equally as effective here. In women, sexual response is enhanced by the increase in blood flow.
Growth Hormone Release
Another well-known benefit of arginine is its relationship to the pituitary gland. The amino is required for the synthesis and release from the pituitary of growth hormone. Essential for the growth process, it stimulates growth of bones, skin, and other organs. It is essential for tissue and wound repair. It is also essential in the burning of fat and the building of muscle tissue. After the late teens and ultimately by age 30, levels of growth hormone have dropped dramatically with the result of more difficulty in (gaining) muscle growth and fat-burning. Research shows that supplemental doses of arginine from 3 to 10 grams per day can stimulate the release of growth hormone from the pituitary in an adult.
Arginine is a component of the blood-sugar regulating hormone insulin as well as hemoglobin. As a growth hormone precursor, it helps to stimulate the thymus gland's immune system regulation, improving T-cells that destroy harmful invaders. It may lower C-reactive protein levels, reducing inflammation in the cardiovascular system.
As a supplemental single amino acid, arginine should be taken on an empty stomach. It is available generally in dosages of 500 and 1,000 milligrams and also as powder. Evergreen carries it singly and in various blends found in our Sports Nutrition section.
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