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Nutrient - Arginine

By Jenny Bodenham BA(Hons) DipION MBANT

Arginine is one of the 20 natural amino acids that make up the various proteins in our bodies.  It is an essential amino acid during childhood, but regarded as a ‘non-essential’ or ‘conditionally essential’ in adults. This is because it can be synthesised by the body in sufficient amounts from other amino acids, such as L-glutamate and L-glutamine. However, when the body is under stress, or suffers an injury, additional arginine may be required. 

Arginine is a precursor of nitric oxide, and other metabolites, and is a component of collagen, enzymes and hormones (e.g. vasopressin), ejaculate (seminal fluid and sperm), skin and connective tissues. It also plays an important role in the synthesis of various compounds, such as creatine and insulin. Nitric oxide controls blood vessel tone and flexibility, aiding relaxation of blood vessels and improving blood circulation. For this reason, it is commonly taken for cardiovascular health. In addition, as arginine is required for the replication of cells, it is essential in sperm formation and is useful for male infertility and erectile dysfunction.  

Arginine supplementation is also popular with athletes, as it is used by the body to  produce creatine phosphate, a compound needed for muscular energy production. As it plays a prominent role in the metabolism of glucose and production of insulin, it can help maintain energy levels. Arginine also stimulates the formation and release of growth hormone needed to build muscle mass, so it may be particularly useful in power sports.  

Because arginine may stimulate the growth of the herpes virus, it should be avoided by anyone prone to cold sores or with a herpes infection. It may also not be suitable for pregnant or lactating women.

Functions

  • Supports healthy blood flow, circulation and cardiovascular health
  • Required for sperm formation and motility
  • Utilised for muscular energy production and metabolism of glucose
  • May support kidney and liver function, as it reduces accumulation of compounds such as ammonia and plasma lactate – by-products of physical activity
  • May help support immune function
  • Stimulates the release of growth hormone needed for building muscle mass

Deficiency Signs

Deficiency of arginine may lead to decreased sperm counts, delay in sexual maturity, impairment of the production of insulin and poor blood sugar control. 

Food sources

Arginine is found in protein-rich foods including:

  • Beef                                                   
  • Pork
  • Turkey
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Dairy products and eggs
  • Oats and wheat
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Chocolate
  • Soybeans, lentils and chickpeas

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