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Heart Health Center

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Arginine: Heart Benefits and Side Effects

There are plenty of powerful new drugs to help prevent and treat chronic health problems. But we also know that certain nutrients may help, as well. Take arginine, for example. Arginine has gotten lots of attention lately for its potential heart benefits. That's important because, today, about 85.6 million Americans have some form of cardiovascular disease.

Deficiencies of arginine are rare. It's abundant in many different types of foods, and your body can also make it. Arginine-rich foods include red meat, fish, poultry, wheat germ, grains, nuts and seeds, and dairy products. But what does arginine do for the heart, and are there potential side effects?

Did You Know?

Under the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans will cover preventive care services, including blood pressure and cholesterol screenings, at no cost to you. Learn more. 

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Why Do We Need Arginine?

Arginine, also known as L-arginine, is involved in a number of different functions in the body. They include:

  • Wound healing
  • Helping the kidneys remove waste products from the body
  • Maintaining immune and hormone function
  • Dilates and relaxes the arteries

As a natural dietary supplement, arginine has garnered particular attention for its possible heart benefits.

What Are Arginine's Heart Benefits?

In the body, the amino acid arginine changes into nitric oxide (NO). Nitric oxide is a powerful neurotransmitter that helps blood vessels relax and also improves circulation.

Some evidence shows that arginine may help improve blood flow in the arteries of the heart. That may improve symptoms of clogged arteries, chest pain or angina, and coronary artery disease. However, there currently is no data on how the long-term use of arginine affects cholesterol or heart health.

Since arginine may help arteries relax and improve blood flow, it may also help with erectile dysfunction.

There are other potential health benefits with arginine, such as possible reduction of blood pressure in some people and improved walking distance in patients with intermittent leg cramping and weakness known as intermittent claudication. However, the scientific studies are not conclusive enough for experts to make any firm recommendations.

Not all studies on arginine have been positive. A 2006 study showed that arginine was not helpful -- and may have been harmful -- for treating heart attacks in combination with standard treatment.

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