The amino acid arginine is one of the non-essential amino acids, however, it is considered to be semi-essential in young children. This amino acid can slow down the growth of all kinds of tumors and many types of cancer by boosting the performance of immune system functioning in the body. The presence of arginine in the body also leads to increase in the size and the metabolic activity of the thymus gland, this important gland is mainly involved in the synthesis of T lymphocytes or T cells, which are vital components in the human immune system. The amino acid arginine may thus be of use to those suffering from immune system disorders like AIDS and any other malignant condition that leads to the suppression of the immune system in human beings. The amino acid arginine is also known to be good for certain types of liver disorders like fatty liver and liver cirrhosis. The arginine helps the liver in its detoxification process by neutralizing the effect of ammonia. Arginine is also contained in seminal fluid in high amounts. Arginine deficiency in the body may delay the onset of sexual maturity according to the result gained from some studies. At the same time, sterility in men seems treatable using arginine as a supplement. Arginine is found to be present in very high concentrations in the human skin and in the connective tissues. The presence of arginine in the body helps in the rapid healing and repair of damaged tissues in the human body.
Metabolism in the muscles requires the presence of arginine in muscle tissues. Arginine is also required in the body to help in the maintenance of proper nitrogen balance - it acts as a bio-molecule for transportation and storage of excess nitrogen. Arginine also aids in excretion of excess nitrogen produced in the human body. The presence of arginine in the body is also useful to weight loss; the amino acid facilitates the coming of an increase in muscle mass and brings about a reduction in the amount of body fat present in the body. A variety of hormones and enzymes also contain arginine as an essential component in their structures. Arginine also helps in stimulating the pancreas and aids the gland in releasing insulin. Arginine also forms a major structural component of the pituitary hormone called vasopressin. It is also involved in the release of growth hormones into the blood stream. Conditions such as arthritis and connective tissue disorders can be treated by arginine supplements as the amino acid is a major component of collagen and bone and tendon tissues. Collagen is the main protein which forms scar tissue during the process of wound healing - this protein is very rich in arginine content. Arginine is also involved in performing many different functions in the body, that include taking part in the formation of insulin, improving glucose tolerance, and in the metabolism of lipids by the liver - these processes can be impaired if a deficiency of arginine occurs in the body.
Arginine is naturally synthesized in body and normally not required from dietary sources. At the same time, the biochemical pathways for the synthesis of arginine is not fully develops in newborn infants and some children, thus the natural rate of arginine production might not keep up with the requirements in the body - thus in children, arginine is required in the diet. It can be considered to be semi-essential. Good dietary sources of arginine for humans include foods like carob, all dairy products, dark chocolate, coconut, gelatin and meats, plants like oats, peanuts, soybeans, walnuts, it is also present in white flour, wheat, and wheat germ - thus normal to average diets will tend to contain arginine.
Supplements of arginine must not be taken by individuals affected by viral infections like herpes. Food sources rich in arginine may need to be avoided by such patients as arginine seems to be capable of promoting the presence of certain viruses in the body. Lactating and pregnant women must avoid the use of L-arginine supplements at all costs. Supplemental doses of arginine over 30 mgs a day must be avoided by all persons affected by schizophrenia. Arginine is not recommended for long term supplemental use, especially in very high doses. A thickening or coarsening of the skin has been connected to several weeks of taking large arginine supplemental doses by volunteers in one study.
Arginine is also present in abundance in all dairy products, all meats and poultry and fishes. Significant amounts of arginine are also obtained from nuts.
Sufficient amounts of arginine are normally produced in adults even when the amino acid is lacking in dietary sources. Such may not be the case during times of excessive stress, including infection, burns or injury, at such times, the body may not be able to keep up with the higher demands for the amino acid.
Extra arginine is not required by the majority of people at most times. Supplements of arginine should be taken by certain individuals like patients affected by serious infections, those suffering from burns, or other physical trauma. In such cases, the appropriate dose of the amino acid may be determined by a doctor and the amino acid can be taken under medical supervision. The dosage levels of arginine used for purposes of research can vary significantly. Rates of intake considered optimal are not known, and dose seems to depend on the individual on a case by case basis.
Side effects and cautions
All obvious side effects seem to be absent from the use of supplemental arginine so far. While, some medical doctors have expressed concern about increase in growth hormone production triggered by arginine may possibly overwork the pancreas and impair the functioning of this important gland.
Before thinking of supplementing with arginine, those suffering from any kind of kidney or liver disease must make sure that they consult a nutritionally oriented doctor as it may be best to carry out supplementation only under strict medical supervision. Patients affected by disorders such as herpes, including cold sores or genital herpes, must completely avoid the use of arginine supplements as the arginine can actively stimulate the replication of the virus inside the human body.
There is evidence that cancer growth in test animals can both be promoted and interfered with by arginine given in large doses. Cancer growth rates in human cells studied during preliminary research shows that very high intake of the amino acid at 30 grams daily of supplemental arginine has increased the cancer cell growth rate. Arginine has also paradoxically been shown to stimulate immune system functioning in people affected by cancer. So far, the benefits of using regular supplemental arginine in people with cancer are not known and more tests are needed.
In the bio-synthesis of human growth hormone, arginine has been shown to work with ornithine.
Arginine supplements must not be given to infants or growing children, as it might induce gigantism in them. The use of an amino acid supplement to treat dwarfism in an infant's or child must be discussed with a health care provider and all such supplementation must be conducted under medical supervision. The supplements of arginine must not be given to schizophrenic patients. Foods rich in amino acids and any amino acid supplement including arginine must be avoided by individuals with herpes as these amino acids are believed to trigger the herpes virus activity in the human body. This reaction can be counteracted by taking supplemental 500 mg of L-lysine; this amino acid will possibly inhibit the outbreak of the herpes virus in the body, the lysine dose will also enable continuation of the L-arginine supplement. Arginine taken in excessively large dosages of 20 or more grams can induce bone and joint deformities in the person. The skin can also become coarse and thickened if large amounts of arginine is taken over a period of several weeks at a stretch. The skin can be brought back to its natural state by reducing the intake of arginine.