What Does L-Arginine Do?

ifeelmysoul/iStock/Getty Images

L-arginine, one of the amino acids that make up protein, has been researched for its role in helping to treat and prevent a number of conditions, including congestive heart failure, the common cold, reduced kidney function and erectile dysfunction. Once in the body, L-arginine is converted into another chemical, known as nitric oxide, which can improve blood flow and stimulate the release of certain hormones, including insulin and growth hormone.

L-arginine in the Body

The nitric oxide produced by L-arginine helps relax blood vessels, thus improving blood flow. This improvement in blood flow is the mechanism that makes it an effective treatment for various conditions, including cardiovascular diseases and sexual dysfunction. L-arginine has also been used in conjunction with other treatments to boost immune function in hospitalized patients, notes the NYU Langone Medical Center.

Uses for L-arginine

L-arginine is rated as "possibly effective" for helping surgical recovery, improving kidney function in kidney transplant patients, bladder inflammation, weight loss in in people with HIV/AIDS, congestive heart failure, according to MedlinePlus. Medline Plus also notes that L-arginine is "possibly effective" for the chest pain associated with coronary artery disease -- although it does not improve heart disease itself -- erectile dysfunction, cramping in the legs associated with atherosclerosis, heart attack and increased gestational blood pressure.

Additional Uses

Many over-the-counter and prescription medications are used in conjunction with L-arginine, including ibuprofen for treating migraine headaches and fish oil for reducing infections, notes MedlinePlus. L-arginine has been proposed for other uses including altitude sickness, high blood pressure, the common cold and sexual dysfunction in women, notes the NYU Langone Medical Center. Some individuals use L-arginine topically on the skin to improve blood flow to the extremities or reduce the healing time for injuries.

L-arginine Safety

L-arginine is likely safe and well tolerated in doses up to 20 grams per day, according to the NYU Langone Medical Center. Those with low-blood pressure should not take L-arginine, as it may lower blood pressure even further. Arginine may also make herpes worse by allowing the herpes virus to multiply. To be on the safe side, pregnant or nursing women, young children and individuals with kidney or liver disease should avoid L-arginine. L-arginine should not be taken with medications for high blood pressure or medications that increase blood flow to the heart.