Arginine for Happy Arteries

This amino acid may help your heart...and your heart’s desire.

By Lisa James

November/December 2005

“Give all to love, obey thy heart,” cries the poet, and most of us have felt the link between our hearts and our more passionate feelings. In the more reasoned language of science, what connects the heart with the heat of amore is blood flowing freely through relaxed, wide-open arteries.

That’s where arginine comes in. This amino acid (protein building block) has stirred excitement because of its ability to improve blood flow. Scientists now think that one reason nuts promote heart health, in addition to their high omega-3 content, is because they provide plenty of arginine (as do other high-protein foods such as meat, cheese and eggs), and supplemental arginine has been linked to improvements in cardiovascular function. This nutrient is also under the microscope as a way to promote healthy sexual functioning in both men and women.

Arteries Unclenched

As often as we’ve heard the heart described as a pump and the blood vessels as pipes, the plumbing analogy doesn’t entirely hold. For one thing, arteries—those vessels that carry oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood from the heart to the body—are dynamic creations, with muscular walls that can narrow or widen as needed. One of the chemicals that control this process is called nitric oxide, and arginine plays a crucial role in nitric oxide production.

Because the body can create its own stores, arginine is classified as a non-essential amino acid. However, scientists now think that getting a supplemental supply (in the form of L-arginine) may be best for optimal well-being. In a well-designed multinational study, for example, men with high cholesterol who took L-arginine experienced drops in both blood pressure and homocysteine, a substance associated with heart attack and stroke (Journal of Nutrition 2/05). And a research team at UCLA believes that combining L-arginine with such antioxidants as vitamins C and E may reduce the inflammation that can lead to blocked coronary blood vessels.

Ardor Enabled

Arginine’s ability to stimulate bountiful blood flow supports enhanced intimacy, which in both genders depends on a fully activated circulatory system. In fact, arginine’s effects on nitric oxide are similar to those of Viagra and comparable drugs—except that arginine “is much less dangerous,” according to nationally noted herbalist Ellen Kamhi.

Men and women experiencing sexual dysfunction enjoyed greater levels of satisfaction after taking an arginine-based supplement, and the ladies reported having better relationships with their partners. What’s more, arginine has helped infertile men by making sperm stronger and healthier.

Arginine may also help keep things pumping smoothly at the gym. It promotes the release of human growth hormone, which helps muscles grow bigger, and boosts the production of creatine, which serves as a power pack for high-intensity sports. What’s more, arginine helps the body rid itself of ammonia, a toxic byproduct of physical activity. The amino acid’s ability to enable protein creation aids not only athletes but also people recovering from wounds, including those associated with surgery and burns. (Note: the herpes virus that causes cold sores thrives on arginine; avoid supplements if you’re having an outbreak.)

When the mind is willing but the body falls short, let arginine unleash your potential.

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