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L-arginine was first isolated in 1886. In 1932, scientists learned that L-arginine is needed to create urea, a waste product that is necessary for toxic ammonia to be removed from the body. In 1939, researchers discovered that L-arginine is also needed to make creatine. Creatine breaks down into creatinine at a constant rate, and it is cleared from the body by the kidneys.

Arginine is considered a semi-essential amino acid because even though the body normally makes enough of it, supplementation is sometimes needed. For example, people with protein malnutrition, excessive ammonia production, excessive lysine intake, burns, infections, peritoneal dialysis, rapid growth, urea synthesis disorders, or sepsis may not have enough arginine. Symptoms of arginine deficiency include poor wound healing, hair loss, skin rash, constipation, and fatty liver.

Arginine changes into nitric oxide, which causes blood vessel relaxation (vasodilation). Early evidence suggests that arginine may help treat medical conditions that improve with vasodilation, such as chest pain, clogged arteries (called atherosclerosis), coronary artery disease, erectile dysfunction, heart failure, intermittent claudication/peripheral vascular disease, and blood vessel swelling that causes headaches (vascular headaches). Arginine also triggers the body to make protein and has been studied for wound healing, bodybuilding, enhancement of sperm production (spermatogenesis), and prevention of wasting in people with critical illnesses.

Arginine hydrochloride has a high chloride content and has been used to treat metabolic alkalosis. This use should be under the supervision of a qualified healthcare professional.

In general, most people do not need to take arginine supplements because the body usually produces enough.

Growth hormone reserve test / pituitary disorder diagnosis

Arginine can be injected to measure growth hormone levels in people who might have growth hormone deficiencies, such as panhypopituitarism, gigantism, acromegaly, or pituitary adenoma. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved this use.

Inborn errors of urea synthesis

In patients with inborn errors of urea synthesis, high ammonia levels in the blood and metabolic alkalosis may occur, particularly among patients with ornithine carbamoyl transferase (OCT) deficiencies or carbamoyl phosphate synthetase (CPS) deficiencies. Arginine may help treatment by shifting the way the body processes nitrogen. Arginine should be avoided in patients with hyperargininemia (high arginine levels). Other drugs, such as citrulline, sodium benzoate, or sodium phenylbutyrate, may have similar benefits. However, dialysis may be needed at first. This use of arginine should be supervised by a qualified healthcare professional.

Coronary artery disease / angina

Early evidence from several studies suggests that arginine taken by mouth or by injection may improve exercise tolerance and blood flow in arteries of the heart. Benefits have been shown in some patients with coronary artery disease and chest pain (called angina). However, more research is needed to confirm these findings and to develop safe and effective doses.

Peripheral vascular disease / claudication

Intermittent claudication causes leg pain and tiredness because cholesterol plaques or clots develop in leg arteries and block blood flow. A small number of studies report that arginine therapy may improve walking distance in patients with claudication. Further research is needed.

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