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L-Arginine Benefits and Side Effects

Updated on February 4, 2013
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

used under license agreement
used under license agreement | Source

L-arginine is an important amino acid that the body needs for long term, optimum health. It fights against disease, boosts the immune system, and helps build muscle among the myriad of other duties this chemical takes on.

It is a conditionally essential amino acid which means that the human body does not make it but relies on absorbing it from the foods you eat. This means if you aren’t eating enough of the foods that are high in L-arginine you could be compromising your health.

L-arginine is available in supplement form. As always, before you use any supplement discuss your plans, goals, and overall health with your doctor or naturopath.

Foods that Supply the Body with L-Arginine

Although the body does not make L-arginine it is easily absorbed from a variety of foods. These include:

  • Chicken
  • Chocolate
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Lentils
  • Nuts
  • Oats
  • Peanuts
  • Raisins
  • Seeds
  • Wheat Germ

There are many more foods that contain this important nutrient but as society depends more on highly processed foods, fast foods, and unhealthy diets it becomes more difficult to get as much L-arginine as you need.

Rather than increasing your chocolate intake you may want to add a supplement.

How Is L-Arginine Used by the Body?

This important amino acid is used in many of the body’s processes including making other nutrients.

  • Creatine
  • L-Glutamate
  • L-Proline
  • Nitric Oxide

It also works to keep the body functioning smoothly by:

  • Can be converted to glycogen for energy if needed.
  • Clears waste products from the system.
  • Helps in the formation of proteins.
  • Increases muscle mass.
  • Reduces healing time.
  • Stimulates growth hormones.
  • Stimulates prolactin.

You should be aware that lysine blocks the metabolism of L-arginine. Try to take supplements that contain lysine 12 hours apart from arginine supplements. Also, do not eat the following foods in excess when taking L-arginine:

  • Apricots
  • Avocados
  • Beets
  • Brewers yeast
  • Figs

These can interfere with the metabolism of L-arginine so make sure that you take your arginine supplement several hours before or after these foods.

Specific Uses for L-Arginine

More and more people are finding that L-arginine supplements can be used to treat specific health issues.

Heart Disease

L-arginine increase circulation in the entire body; increasing blood flow, relaxing blood vessels, and improving the entire circulatory system. The Mayo clinic reports that not only does this amino acid improve the blood flow to the heart but angina symptoms were improved as well. Numerous other symptoms may be helped with L-arginine.

It is important to note the Journal of the American Medical Association cautions that L-arginine should not be taken after a heart attack. A study indicated that patients who had recently suffered heart attacks often died after being given L-arginine. Always discuss your plans to take a supplement with your doctor.

Vascular Problems

Studies showed that L-arginine increased circulation to all parts of the body, and helped men with ED when it was caused by vascular problems. It takes six weeks of taking L-arginine to see optimum results.


Injuries to the bone and wounds tend to heal more quickly, with less scar tissue when the patient takes L-arginine.

Other Uses for L-Arginine

More and more people are finding that L-arginine helps with a variety of health problems. Some of the ways that this amino acid strengthens the body are:

  • Anal fissures
  • Breast cancer
  • Burns
  • Chemotherapy side effects
  • Critical illnesses
  • Kidney disease
  • Migraine relief

Benefits of L-Arginine

Possible Side Effects

Although there are many opinions on the use of L-arginine you need to read all of the facts and discuss your plans with your health care provider before making the decision to add this supplement to your diet.

Generally side effects, if there are any, are mild. Like anything, however, side effects can be serious and even life threatening.

Side effects of oral doses of L-arginine include:

  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Gout
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pains

Some doctors prefer to give L-arginine as an injection. These side effects include:

  • Flushing of the skin
  • Headache
  • Low back pain
  • Numbness
  • Pain at the site of injection
  • Restless Leg Syndrome

There are times when L-arginine may be given in an I.V. Your medical staff will watch for side effects that could include:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Serious Side Effects of L-Arginine

Very few people ever experience severe side effects but they can occur. If you begin having any of these symptoms please contact your doctor or go to the emergency room.

Allergic Reactions which can include

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hives
  • Itching
  • Rash
  • Swelling
  • Wheezing

Other serious reactions may include any of the following:

  • Blood chemical changes
  • Death of cell tissue around injection
  • Increased asthma
  • Nerve damage
  • Rapid drop in blood pressure

Don’t Use L-Arginine If…

There are people who just should not use this amino acid.

After a Heart Attack

Researchers found that many heart patients died when given L-Arginine directly after a heart attack.

Blood Thinners

If you are taking blood thinners like Coumadin you should not take L-Arginine. Since it increases circulation it also increases the risk of bleeding. If you have hemophilia there is the same risk.


People on prescription medication to control blood sugar should not take L-Arginine as it can significantly increase your blood sugar levels.

Others Who Should Stay Away from L-Arginine

Other people who should not use L-Arginine supplements are:

  • Asthmatics
  • Liver disease
  • Nursing mothers
  • Pregnant women
  • Sickle Cell anemia patients

Always Talk to Your Health Care Provider

Many problems stemming from the use of nutritional supplements and herbs can be avoided when patients take the time to discuss their plans with their health care providers. Do the research that you need to do, talk to your doctor, and then follow his advice.

As educated as the clerk at the health food store may be he is not a medical authority. Don’t take chances with your health.


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    • Kasman profile image

      Kas 4 years ago from Bartlett, Tennessee

      Very informative hub. I love your facts and I can honestly say I probably consume a good amount of it because of what I eat. However, I'm also working out pretty heavily now and I'm about to take Advocare's ARGININE extreme to fuel my body. I'm excited about the benefits you listed and I can honestly say I learned a lot from your hub. Thanks for writing it. I'm voting up. God bless!

    • Ruby H Rose profile image

      Maree Michael Martin 4 years ago from Northwest Washington on an Island

      Eating most of these foods on a regular basis, good to know! Thanks

    • Marye Audet profile image

      Marye Audet 6 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      It "can" intensify the symptoms of asthma

    • PIANORAMA profile image

      PIANORAMA 6 years ago from Santa Barbara, California

      Do you know why people with asthma should not take it? I've been taking 1/4 tsp with other micronutrients daily for some time and have suffered no ill effects whatsoever.

    • anglnwu profile image

      anglnwu 6 years ago

      Very comprehensive hub. I'm glad that L-Arginine can be obtainted from a number of foods and I enjoy most of what you've listed. Thanks for sharing.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 6 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Thanks for the info. I'll keep eating lots of lentils, oats, nuts, peanuts, raisins, seeds, and wheat germ.

    • LoriSoard profile image

      LoriSoard 6 years ago from Henryville, Indiana

      Looks promising. I will probably steer clear as my blood sugar runs borderline unless I follow strict low carb, but this was so interesting. I didn't realize L-Arginine did so many things. Voting up.