L-arginine is produced in the kidneys for use in the body. It is necessary for the synthesis of protein in the body. The body normally produces sufficient amounts of L-arginine except in the case of certain disorders or illnesses, which can make supplementation necessary. Natural sources of L-arginine can be the easiest way to increase one’s intake of this important amino acid. Appropriate dosages of L-arginine for treatment of various ailments have not been established, which makes natural sources the safest means of utilizing it.
Certain conditions such as infections, physical trauma, and severe burns can remove the body’s supply of L-arginine. In these cases, some form of supplementation would be necessary. The amino acid has been proven to facilitate blood flow by decreasing blood vessel stiffness, thereby improving circulation. L-arginine is used for lowering blood pressure, and for easing migraine headaches. L-arginine has also been shown to assist in wound healing and in correcting erectile dysfunction. People have taken L-arginine to improve symptoms due to herpes.
Beef, pork (bacon, ham), dairy products, chicken, turkey and seafood are significant sources of L-arginine. These animal proteins can also be high in fat, which is not ideal for a healthy diet. And meats are higher in L-lysine content, which is an amino acid that utilizes the same metabolic pathway as L-arginine. The intake of one amino-acid can decrease the effects of the other. This should be considered when you are trying to increase the amount of L-arginine in the body.
Plant proteins contain larger amounts of L-arginine than animal sources. Almonds, Brazil nuts, pecans, cashews, hazelnuts, walnuts, buckwheat, wheat germ, wheat flour, seeds (sesame, sunflower, pumpkin), raisins, brown rice, oats, granola, chickpeas and coconut are all excellent sources of L-arginine.
Consuming amino acids as they occur in nature means avoiding many of the side effects that come from overdosing. L-arginine in large doses (over 40g per day) can be toxic to the kidney and liver. Pregnant and nursing women should avoid taking L-arginine supplements as it has not been determined what effect it has on the mother or child. Minor side effects caused by L-arginine include indigestion, headache and nausea.
Although this amino acid has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and to lower blood pressure, the supplement is not safe for people who have had a heart attack. A study by the National Institutes of Health showed that heart attack patients taking L-arginine died while those taking a placebo did not. Diabetics should also avoid L-arginine as it can increase blood sugar levels. In general, a doctor should be consulted when you decide whether to add supplements to the diet.