By Jan de Vries, originally published Spring 2010
Fitting somewhere between a non-essential and a semi-essential amino acid, this substance is showing great promise as a natural booster during the wound healing process as well as being implicated as helpful in a growing number of special health situations.
Our bodies are built from compounds known as amino acids. These can be thought of as the individual Lego bricks that once clicked together in specific ways can build anything from a simple to highly complex construction. In the body, amino acids do a similar job of building simple structures through to highly complex protein compounds needed to ensure our healthy functioning. These compounds’ and structures range from the very cells that build each and every one of us through to the chemical messengers that allow hormones and brain chemicals to ‘talk’ to one another. They are the very building blocks of life that use our DNA as an instruction book for making and maintaining us.
In general, amino acids are classified as either essential or non-essential. Essential amino acids cannot be made in the body and must be obtained from the diet, whereas non-essential amino acids, whilst still vital for health, can be made in the body and are therefore not termed ‘essential.’
Arginine is one of the non-essential amino acids in humans but in other animals (eg. cats and rats) it is considered an essential amino acid. However, a more correct way to view arginine is as a semi-essential substance. Even though this is not an official classification, humans do sometimes need extra arginine under special circumstances such as during times of infections, over times of abnormally rapid growth, during phases of wound healing and in cases of ‘fatty liver’. Interestingly, the story of arginine and the history of arginine can be traced back to 1886 when it was first isolated and by the 1930’s its vital role in human health was starting to become more apparent.
What does it do in the body?
A key function of arginine revolves around its ability to be converted into a substance called nitroxic acid (NO). It is well recognised that NO is a potent compound that not only causes blood vessels to open up (dilate) and relax but increases blood flow as a consequence. However, to be on the same side, those who have recently suffered a heart attack should not use arginine supplements in case this effect disturbs their traumatised cardiac blood vessels.
In less severe cases of circulatory disease, the Mayo Clinic comments that arginine may help improve poor peripheral circulation in the legs (intermittent claudication) and even erectile dysfunction all of which depend or benefit on an adequate or increased blood supply. Its ability to stimulate relaxation of blood vessels may make arginine a useful supplement for those suffering from high blood pressure. Some studies do support this but there is no conclusive evidence to date.
There have been a number of additional key functions of arginine that have recently come to light. As well as stimulating blood supply to wound site, arginine is involved in the production of vital wound healing proteins that helps to guarantee a well healed and structurally strong healed wound site. A lack of arginine is associated with poor or limited wound health and more scare formation.
There have been some studies that suggest arginine is a useful supplement in helping anal fissures to heal more quickly and efficiently. Although not conclusive, a course of arginine supplements taken over a 4-6 week period would do no harm and if it helps speed the healing in such cases, well worth a try! In more severe cases in critically ill (often bedridden) people, a lack of arginine has been associated with rapid loss of muscle mass indicating that healthy and strong muscles rely on an adequate arginine supply.
Where does it come from?
The most common natural food sources of arginine can be found in walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, sesame and sunflower seeds, peanuts, brown rice, raisings, coconut, buckwheat, almonds, barley, cashews, cereals, chicken, corn, dairy products as well as meats. When taken as a supplement, research suggests that it is not recommended to exceed 2,000-3,000 mg per day. A supplement dose of 1,500 -2,000mg would be more appropriate.
Are there any side effects?
The use of arginine as a supplement is well tolerated in most people. There are a few issues that higher dose or sensitive users may need to take note of; some people with low blood pressure may experience an additional lowering effect and those with diabetes may notice an increased blood sugar level. People with severe liver or kidney disease as well as those with sickle cell disease should avoid supplements of arginine. However, the side effects are rare and advice from a health professional should be sought if you have an underlying medical condition before embarking on arginine supplements
From the Jan de Vries archives
So, as you can see L-Arginine really is a fantastic nutrient, helping to dilate our blood vessels and increase our blood flow! However what L-Arginine supplement would we recommend here at Jan de Vries? Well it really depends – firstly on whether you want a concentrated or mild dose?
Solgar’s 500mg L-Arginine Vegetable Capsules are considered to be one of their premium-quality supplements, offering you a mild dose that gently increases your intake – perfect if you’re simply looking for a low, maintainable dose!
If it’s a more potent dose you’re after though, then perhaps Lamberts 1000mg L-Arginine HCI Tablets are more in line with what you want. Quick and easy to absorb, you can take up to 4 tablets daily, providing you are not pregnant and are over the age of 18!