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Arginine, or L-arginine, is an amino acid that is needed to keep the keep the liver, skin, joints, and muscles healthy. Arginine helps strengthen the body’s immune system, regulates hormones and blood sugar, and promotes male fertility. In addition, research has shown that this amino acid may improve circulation and treat impotence and heart disease.

Arginine is considered a semi-essential amino acid because, although the body manufactures its own supply, there are times when dietary supplementation may be required, such as in the case of severe wounds or illness. In addition, newborns are not able to make their own supply of this substance, so arginine is considered essential in the first months of life.

Arginine stimulates the immune system by increasing the output of T lymphocytes (T- cells) from the thymus gland. Recent studies have focused on the potential of arginine as a treatment for AIDS, cancer, and other diseases linked to a depressed immune system.

Arginine helps detoxify the liver by neutralizing the effects of ammonia and other toxic substances in the body. It is required for the generation of urea, which is needed for removal of toxic ammonia from the body during urination.

Large concentrations of arginine are found in the skin, and this amino acid plays a key role in the health of all the body’s connective tissues, particularly the muscles. Arginine helps the body process both creatine, a natural substance that helps build muscle mass, and nitrogen, a chemical needed for muscle metabolism. Laboratory research suggests that arginine may help reduce body fat and speed up weight loss. Arginine has also been shown to help heal and repair damaged tissues, and thus may be beneficial to both athletes and those suffering from arthritis.

Arginine is involved in a variety of hormonal processes in the body. It stimulates the pancreas to release insulin, is used to make the pituitary hormone vasopressin, and regulates the production of growth hormone. In fact, the FDA has approved the use of intravenous arginine to evaluate those with suspected growth hormone deficiency. Some researchers theorize that delayed sexual maturity may be the result of arginine deficiency. It is also thought that arginine may help treat sterility in men—seminal fluid of healthy men normally contains large amounts of arginine. Boosting arginine levels may help boost the activity of sperm as well.

The body needs arginine to produce nitric oxide, a chemical that causes blood vessel relaxation (vasodilation). Preliminary studies indicate that arginine may be useful in the treatment of angina, atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease, intermittent claudication, erectile dysfunction, female impotence, migraine, and other conditions that are linked to reduced blood flow throughout the body.

Because the body manufactures its own arginine, most people do not need to take arginine supplements. Many common foods, such as carob, chocolate, coconut, dairy products, gelatin, meat, oats, peanuts, soybeans, walnuts, white flour, wheat, and wheat germ, contain large amounts of arginine. However, arginine supplements may be necessary to those fighting infection, burns, undergoing dialysis, experiencing rapid growth, or those with trouble processing urea. Anyone wishing to lose weight, build muscle, or strengthen the immune system also may want to consider supplementation. A typical dosage of arginine is 2 to 3 grams of arginine, although doses of up to 15 grams were used in clinical trials studying the effects of arginine on congestive heart failure.

Long-term use of arginine supplements is not recommended, as it may result in thickening and coarsening of the skin and/or nitrogen imbalance in the body. Anyone with kidney or liver disease should not take arginine without first consulting a physician. Arginine has also been shown to increase or decrease the effects of certain medications, including lysine, NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories), ACE inhibitors, or potassium sparing diuretics. People with herpes or schizophrenia should avoid arginine supplementation altogether as it may aggravate these conditions.

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