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At very high intakes (approximately 250 mg per 2.2 pounds of body weight), the amino acid arginine has increased growth hormone levels,1 an effect that has interested body builders due to the role of growth hormone in stimulating muscle growth.2 However, at lower amounts recommended by some manufacturers (5 grams taken 30 minutes before exercise), arginine failed to increase growth hormone release and may even have impaired the release of growth hormone in younger adults.3
Double-blind trials conducted by one group of researchers, combining weight training with either arginine and ornithine (500 mg of each, twice per day, five times per week) or placebo, found the amino-acid combination produced decreases in body fat,4 resulted in higher total strength and lean body mass, and reduced evidence of tissue breakdown after only five weeks.5
For most people, arginine has so far appeared to be free of obvious side effects. However, longer-term studies are needed to confirm its safety.
In a double-blind study, supplementation with 9 grams of arginine per day for six months, beginning within 3 to 21 days after a heart attack, resulted in an increase in the mortality rate.6 Therefore, people who have recently suffered a heart attack should probably not take large amounts of arginine. Arginine is beneficial for other manifestations of heart disease, such as heart failure and angina. However, because of the potential for arginine to cause adverse effects in heart patients, people with heart disease should consult a doctor before taking arginine.
There have been two case reports of severe allergic reactions following intravenous administration of L-arginine;7 however, allergic reactions have not been reported after oral administration.
People with kidney or liver disease should consult their doctor before supplementing with arginine. Some doctors believe that people with herpes (either cold sores or genital herpes) should not take arginine supplements, because of the possibility that arginine might stimulate replication of the virus.
Administration of large amounts of arginine to animals has been found both to promote8 and to interfere with cancer growth.9 In preliminary research, high intake (30 grams per day) of arginine has increased cancer cell growth in humans.10 On the other hand, in people with cancer, arginine has been found to stimulate the immune system.11 At this time it remains unclear whether arginine is dangerous or helpful for people with cancer.
Arginine works with ornithine in the synthesis of growth hormone.
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The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2016.