Our body is made up of proteins – they are both the building blocks of our muscles and cells, and their action molecules. Each is one or more long chains of amino acids, assembled into a specific shape which influences its function.
Human proteins are made of 20 amino acids, and these, in different combinations, patterns, and amounts, build the 100,000 or more proteins found in our bodies. Of these, we can make most, but nine need to be taken in from food – these are the nine essential amino acids1.
However, two amino acids, arginine and histidine, are special – we can make enough of them most times, but during pregnancy, quick growth and healing, we may not produce the amounts that our body needs2. So we need to get them from food.
What does arginine do in the body?
Arginine is an active participant in several metabolic pathways in our body. It’s used to eliminate ammonia from the body, and produce important molecules like:
- Polyamines, which participate in cell division.
- Proline, an amino acid, which makes up collagen. It’s important for wound healing, antioxidative reactions and immune response3.
- Glutamate, another amino acid, which is abundant in the brain and acts as a neurotransmitter. It’s involved in learning, memory, and providing the brain with energy when glucose is low4,5.
- Creatine, which muscles use for energy.
- Agmatine, which modulates the way signals are transmitted in our brain, and carries certain signals, all while protecting the brain6.
Arginine also has a close relationship with nitric oxide, NO. It is a molecule our body uses for signaling, which is involved in neurotransmission, in regulating our blood flow, helping the mitochondria function properly, and immunity7,8.
So, what does arginine have to do with aging?
When we age, our body changes, with our brains, hearts, and our reproductive systems changing the way they function. Getting enough arginine can help improve the functioning of these systems9. It has even been suggested to improve exercise performance in elderly cyclists10.
Supporting our hormones
During aging, our body makes less growth hormone, causing our muscle mass and strength to decrease11. On the other hand, body fat, especially around the belly, increases12. The growth hormone is also involved in cognition, and decreased amounts of it are associated with a worsening of short-term memory and problem solving13.
Supplementing arginine may double growth hormone levels and even quadruple them if it’s combined with exercise14.
Supporting the heart and blood vessels
It’s important to keep our heart and blood pressure healthy, especially as we age. Getting arginine through diet or supplements is suggested to help decrease blood pressure and even decrease free fatty acids in the blood of overweight or obese people15.
For women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, arginine is invaluable. Pre-eclampsia, which is a condition associated with high blood pressure, occurs after 20 weeks or after delivery and usually requires medical attention. Arginine may prevent preeclampsia, especially when combined with vitamins that act as antioxidants16,17.
Antioxidant vitamins include vitamin C, vitamin E, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and folate. If you’re looking to top up on those, look no further than Daily Max Women, which has your daily doses of vitamins, as well as the recommended 400 mg of folic acid during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and a lower amount of vitamin A (940 mcg) in the form of beta carotene18.
An amino acid for immunity
Arginine is essential for the immune system – it’s needed to make T-cells and B-cells, antibodies, and for better immune system function. It is essential for proper wound healing as well, as it improves the rate at which reparative collagen is made.
Arginine can help reduce infections in those undergoing high-risk surgery and can help recover from traumatic injury. That makes it harder for illnesses to progress, making it easier to fight off infection and recover19.
Arginine may make your body more sensitive to insulin if you suffer from type 2 diabetes. If you combine supplementing with a diet and exercise, it can improve glucose metabolism in those that are overweight20. Arginine can also decrease oxidative stress and improve release of adipokines, which are appetite and satiety modulating compounds that our fat tissues secrete21.
It may also delay developing type 2 diabetes in those who are at a high risk of developing it22.
Arginine for reproductive health
Arginine is a superb supplement for reproductive health – it helps with developing and maintaining an erection, as it stimulates blood flow. It also improves spermatogenesis when taken in a dose of 1.5-5 g per day23,24.
NSAID, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, can cause discomfort as they can irritate the lining of the stomach. Taking arginine 30 minutes before an NSAID dose can mitigate that, and arginine use in general can improve our gut microbiome diversity25,26.
How much arginine do we need?
Arginine makes up about 5-7% of our daily amino acid intake. That works out as 2.5-5 g/day, which meets the minimum of our body’s requirements. Up to 30 grams a day is safe in the short term, but may be accompanied by gut discomfort, so taking up to 9 grams is more recommended as it decreases chances of nausea27.
Is it safe to take long term? As a rule of thumb, take smaller doses at the start and monitor your reaction. If you would like to take arginine for a specific condition, consult with your health provider to work out an optimal dose.
What to watch out for?
Arginine may not suit those who have issues with the liver or kidneys, and those that take certain medications, like ones for blood pressure or certain herbal supplements.
For a full list of potential active ingredients and medications that may be incompatible, check out MedlinePlus from the National Institute of Health, or consult with your healthcare provider.
Maxler has high-quality supplements for you to try if you’re interested in increasing your arginine intake.
For pure arginine in a convenient form, try Maxler Arginine 1000 Max tabs, which contain 1000 mg of arginine in a single tablet.