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L-Arginine: An Amino Acid for Cardiovascular Health

By Edited Aug 6, 2016 0 2

Prevent Coronary Heart Disease Nutritionally

Prevent Ischemic Heart Disease with L-Arginine

Lower Blood Pressure With L-Arginine(80638)
Credit: Zack Sheppard's Photostream

 

L-Arginine is a semi-essential amino acid that promotes and supports a healthy cardiovascular system. L-Arginine is an important nutrient for preventing coronary heart diseases, ischemic strokes, peripheral vascular diseases, hypertension and erectile dysfunction. The effects of l-arginine are mediated largely by nitric oxide, a vasoactive chemical produced from l-arginine. The primary beneficial cardiovascular effects of l-arginine occur mainly on the blood and blood vessels. The beneficial effects on the heart are largely indirect.

Effect of L-Arginine on Vascular Compliance

L-Arginine improves vascular compliance and blood flow. As an important structural component of the blood vessel, l-arginine helps to improve the elastic properties of the blood vessel. This elastic property is often called vascular compliance. A compliant vessel can accommodate sharp and sudden increases in blood volume without corresponding sharp increases in blood pressure. Similarly, sudden and sharp drops in blood volume are not met by sudden drops in blood pressure. This compliant property is very important for maintaining adequate blood flow to the brain and various organs.

Vascular compliance is important for maintaining adequate blood flow to various organs when blood is pumped by a “two-cycle pump”, the heart. Organs like the brain work better when there is adequate perfusion pressure to support blood flow. In the absence of this compliant property, you will feel dizzy and may black out most of the time, assuming that life is sustainable.

By design, the heart is a pulsatile pump that intermittently adds blood to the aorta (main artery in the body). A relatively steady blood pressure, (adequate perfusion pressure) can not be maintained if blood is intermittently pumped into a stiff and non-compliant vessel. Blood pressure would go up to extremely high levels during the systolic phase (contraction of the heart muscle) and fall to zero during the diastolic phase (relaxation of the heart muscle). The heart and blood vessels would also become prone to rupture during the systolic phase under this condition.

Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease

Ischemic heart disease (coronary heart disease) is a condition that arise when the heart does not get adequate oxygen supply due to occlusion of the coronary vessels. Coronary vessels are the blood vessels in the heart that supply blood to the heart muscle. When a coronary vessel is blocked due to cholesterol deposits or spasm of the coronary artery, blood perfusion of the heart becomes impaired. This deprivation of oxygen often results in chest pain (angina pectoris). If the ischemic condition is protracted, the heart muscle would die. The extent of the cardiac tissue damage determines the extent and nature of the functional impairment, This can range from mild arrhythmia to a heart that can not perform. More information on coronary heart disease is presented in the article “Angina Pectoris: What is Ischemic Heart Disease”.

Ischemic Strokes

L-Arginine prevents circulating blood from clumping together, i.e., it prevents platelet aggregation. This effect of l-arginine is also referred to as the antithrobotic effect of l-arginine. L-arginine also helps to maintain the health of the vascular endothelium. Vascular endothelium is the one cell layer that lines the inner walls of the blood vessels. This lining provides a smooth surface so that blood can flow smoothly through the vessels. If blood flows over a rough surface, blood clumping would occur. These two properties, antithrobotic effect and support for vascular endothelium, are important for proper blood circulation.

In the absence of l-arginine, one may become predisposed to blood clumping and the accompanying adverse consequences. For example, if a clumped blood breaks off in the coronary artery, it can block blood supply to the region of the heart that receives blood from that coronary branch. This region of the heart would suffer ischemic damage and die (myocardial infarction). This myocardial infarction would impair the heart's ability to pump blood. It will also set the background for cardiac arrhythmia (via the re-entry mechanism).

Other adverse effects and complications would arise if blood flow to other organs are impaired by this thrombotic mass. If it blocks an artery that supplies blood to the brain, then ischemic stroke will occur. Pulmonary embolism would occur if the mass blocks an artery that carries blood to the lungs.

Nitric Oxide

The antithrombotic effect and numerous other vascular effects of l-arginine occur through a substance called nitric oxide. These other vascular effects includes the l-arginine-associated support for the healthy vascular endothelium. Nitric oxide is very well-known for its effect of dilating diseased coronary arteries to relieve angina pectoris. The recognition of nitric oxide is due largely to its pivotal role as the mediator of the angina-relieving effect of nitroglycerin. Nitroglycerin is the drug that is routinely used for treating angina pectoris.

Peripheral Vascular Disease

L-Arginine has been shown to improve blood flow in patients with peripheral vascular disease. Peripheral vascular disease (PAD) is an ischemic disease that affects the extremities, particularly the legs. PAD is a common disease that affects about 10 million Americans. Similar to the ischemic heart disease, PAD is caused by cholesterol-containing fat deposits that form plaques in the walls of the blood vessels (atherosclerosis).

Hypertension

Reports have shown that l-arginine can lower blood pressure. It is particularly effective for lowering blood pressure in subjects with salt-sensitive hypertension. It is also helpful in controlling some age-related elevation in blood pressure.

Erectile Dysfunction

L-Arginine can be effective for correcting an erectile dysfunction when this condition results from vascular pathology-associated impairment in blood flow. It has little or no effect on dysfunctions that are psychological-based.

Sources of L-Arginine

L-Arginine is found in most protein-containing foods. It is found in high and significant amounts mainly in nuts and seeds. Some of the sources with the highest contents of l-arginine are shown below.

  • peanuts

  • almonds

  • sunflower seeds

  • walnuts

  • hazel nuts

  • lentils

  • Brazil nuts

  • cashew nuts

  • pistachio nuts

  • flax seeds

Your body does not always produce adequate amounts of l-arginine to support cardiovascular health. This is why you need additional amounts of this semi-essential amino acid from nutritional sources.

 

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Comments

May 23, 2012 10:18am
quirkofthemind
Great article! I am not sure if you had heard of this before, but I had once read that sesame seeds are also a good source of arginine but I am not sure in which form.
May 24, 2012 8:58am
onwoc234
Thank you for reading the article. It is true that sesame seed is rich in L-arginine. It contains about 78% as much L-arginine as the peanut.
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Bibliography

  1. Thomas S. Rector et al. "Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Supplemental Oral L-Arginine in Patients With Heart Failure." Circulation. 93 (1996): 2135-2141.
  2. Stefanie M. Bode-Böger et al. "L-Arginine Induces Nitric Oxide–Dependent Vasodilation in Patients With Critical Limb Ischemia. A Randomized, Controlled Study.." Circulation. 93 (1996): 85-90.
  3. Miller et al. "he Effects of Sustained-Release-L-arginine Formulation on Blood Pressure and Vascular Compliance in 29 Healthy Individuals.." Altern. Med. Rev.. 111 (2006): 23-29.

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