When do you need arginine?

Arginine is used for synthesis of protein, agmatine, polyamines and creatine [1]. Because kidneys synthesize arginine usually in sufficient amounts in the urea cycle(releasing 2-4g daily), it’s normally not necessary to attain it from the diet [1p196;229].

At times, however, arginine can become conditionally essential [1p229]. Such times would include protein malnutrition, excessive ammonia production, excessive lysine intake, burns, infections, peritoneal dialysis, rapid growth, urea synthesis disorders, or in the inflammatory state of sepsis [2]. A deficiency could result in fatty liver, poor wound healing, hair loss, skin rash and constipation [2].

Arginine is changed into nitric oxide causing blood vessel relaxation [2], which can lower blood pressure. Thus, should not be used by a patient with low blood pressure [3]. If suffering of sickle cell disease, arginine can worsen symptoms [3].

One should exercise caution if supplementing with arginine because the amino acid is known to result in anaphylaxis in patients with certain allergies [3]. Those on anticoagulants should note that arginine can increase risk of bleeding [3]. It can increase potassium levels, especially in liver disease patients [3]. And the amino acid can increase blood sugar levels so may be contraindicated for patients who are trying to control blood sugar levels [3].

Reference List
1. Gropper SS, Smith JL, Groff JL. Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2009.
2. Mayo Clinic. “Arginine (L-arginine): Background.” Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/l-arginine/NS_patient-arginine.
3. Mayo Clinic. “Arginine (L-arginine): Safety.” Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/l-arginine/NS_patient-arginine/DSECTION=safety.

Published by David Despain, MS, CFS

David is a science and health writer living on Long Island, New York. He's written for a variety of publications including Scientific American, Outside Online, the American Society for Nutrition's (ASN) Nutrition Notes Daily, and Institute of Food Technologists' (IFT) Food Technology magazine and Live! blog. He's also covered new findings reported at scientific meetings including Experimental Biology, AAAS, AOCS, CASW, Sigma Xi, IFT, and others on his personal blog "Evolving Health." David is also an active member of organizations including the National Association of Science Writers (NASW), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Society for Nutrition, the Institute of Food Technologists, and the National Audubon Society. David has a master's degree in human nutrition from the University of Bridgeport, and a bachelor's degree in English from University of Illinois at Springfield. He also earned his Certified Food Scientist credential from the Institute of Food Technologists.

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