© 1991-2012 Jerry Emanuelson

Chapter 4

ARGININE

Note:   If you came directly to this page from a search engine, and are looking for information about human growth hormone, you will find the most comprehensive information about HGH in the next chapter.   Also, please note that this is just one chapter of the online Life Extension Manual.   For more information, please begin at the Preface

Arginine is an amino acid that is known as a growth hormone releaser and a precursor of the vital substance nitric oxide.   The decrease of growth hormone in the human body with aging is a major reason why muscle mass tends to decrease with age and body fat tends to increase with age.  Decreases in growth hormone also are partially responsible for the slower rate of skin growth with aging, which results in thinner and less flexible skin.  Injections of growth hormone can help to reverse these problems.  Even though the cost of growth hormone injections came down in price considerably during the first 15 years since the injections became available, the prices have gone back up in recent years, making them more costly than any time in the past decade.  Growth hormone injections introduce growth hormone in a manner that is very different from the way it is produced by the pituitary gland.  Growth hormone cannot be taken orally, because it is broken down in the digestive tract.

An alternative method of increasing one's level of growth hormone is to take a growth hormone releaser such as arginine.  L-arginine, or l-arginine hydrochloride, taken on an empty stomach, will cause a significant release of growth hormone in many people.  L-arginine is most effective as a growth hormone releaser for people between the ages of about 25 to 45.  It is necessary, however, to use a very large dose of arginine:   10 to 30 grams, depending upon many factors such as one's age and body weight.  It is very important, however, not to overdose on arginine.   On the other hand, some fraudulent and ineffective "growth hormone releasers  currently on the market contain far too little arginine to cause any growth hormone release.

Taking a few capsules of arginine will have no effect on growth hormone in adults, although arginine by be beneficial for other reasons.  Arginine's growth hormone release is greatly enhanced if supplemental choline and B5 (calcium pantothenate) are taken at the same time.  The choline can be in the form of any available form of choline or DMAE supplement.  (Centrophenoxine, a very safe substance available from European or Mexican pharmacies, can also be used as a choline source.  Centrophenoxine is converted to choline in the body.)

The effectiveness of arginine as a growth hormone releaser is highly unpredictable.  There are great individual differences in the effectiveness of arginine as a growth hormone releaser, and the effect diminishes dramatically with increasing age.  The effectiveness of arginine can best be maintained by not taking it continuously.  A schedule of something like four weeks of continuous use followed by a two-week break generally works best.

The effectiveness of arginine in releasing growth hormone is greatly diminished if foods have been consumed that cause other amino acids or significant amounts of insulin to be present in the bloodstream along with the arginine.  That is why the arginine should be taken on an empty stomach (i.e., at least one hour before or three hours after a meal).

Growth hormone releasers should not be used by young people until five years after they have completed their long bone growth (unless under careful medical supervision).  The effectiveness of arginine for growth hormone release is very age-dependent.  It usually causes a massive growth hormone release in people in their 20s.  By the time a person reaches their late 40s or early 50s, however, arginine often still causes a very small growth hormone release, but the growth hormone levels rarely approach youthful levels.

For more detailed information about growth hormone, including injectable growth hormone, see the chapter of the Life Extension Manual on HGH.

Many people prefer l-arginine hydrochloride to free base l-arginine because the hydrochloride doesn't taste as bad.  (Some people have problems with diarrhea when using large doses of the hydrochloride, though.)  The only practical way to take arginine for growth hormone release is to stir it up in a glass of water or unsweetened fruit juice and drink it quickly (so as to minimize the time you have to endure the bad taste).  It is not practical to take arginine in capsules for growth hormone release since it would require taking at least fifteen capsules at a time.  Some flavored drink mixes containing arginine and other nutrient co-factors are commercially available.  Most of these drink mixes were designed by Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw to provide optimal growth hormone release while avoiding the awful taste of straight arginine.

The Pearson/Shaw formulations are sold under the brand name Innerpower™.  Several versions of Innerpower are available.  There is little difference in the growth hormone releasing capabilities of the different versions.

 

There has been some evidence that the combination of l-arginine pyroglutamate and lysine can be an effective growth hormone releaser at much lower doses than l-arginine or l-arginine hydrochloride, although most of this evidence comes from a single, rather old, scientific study.  This is probably because l-arginine pyroglutamate crosses the blood-brain-barrier much easier than other forms of arginine.  In many countries, a capsule containing equal parts of l-arginine pyroglutamate and lysine is available.  I have serious doubts about the long-term usefulness of this particular combination.  The usual dose is 1200 mg of l-arginine pyroglutamate and 1200 mg of lysine daily.  This combination does have the additional advantage of a possible increase in brain function as a result of the pyroglutamate part of the molecule, although some people may have adverse reactions to the pyroglutamate.  One particular problem with l-arginine pyroglutamate is that is powerfully counteracts many general anesthetics.  L-arginine pyroglutamate should be discontinued a day or two before having any kind of surgery.  (The problem here is that a person never knows when they may be in an accident or otherwise may require emergency surgery.)

It is not clear what the lysine part of this combination has to do with growth hormone release since lysine competes with arginine in crossing the blood-brain-barrier.  Logically, it seems that lysine would impair the growth hormone release induced by arginine.  It is likely that the lysine may be an extraneous part of the combination.  The published scientific studies are too sparse to give any answers to this question.

An number of arginine variants have come onto the market in recent years.  It is claimed that many of those variants are more potent than plain l-arginine, and many of them are.  This has resulted in many people spending the night in the hospital due to the excessive blood vessel dilation caused by excessive doses of these artificial variants of l-arginine.  Anyone using one of these newer l-arginine based compound must realize that little is known about their long-term effects or their proper dosage level.

Arginine is also a powerful immune stimulant and wound-healing agent.  At one time, this was thought to be exclusively due to its growth hormone releasing properties; but arginine is a powerful immune stimulant and wound healing agent even in the absence of significant growth hormone release.  It is now known that arginine has other important benefits as a precursor of nitric oxide.

Nitric oxide is usually thought of as a toxic component of smog, but recent scientific discoveries have shown it to be a biological compound of immense importance.  Nitric oxide is the epithelial-derived relaxing factor, the chemical secreted by the lining of human blood vessels that causes the blood vessels to dilate, and thus determines what parts of the body receive extra blood flow, and what parts will receive less in response to other biological signals.  Adequate nitric oxide also helps to insure that this allocation of blood flow is accomplished without undue increases in blood pressure.  Scientists have searched for years for the chemical that causes this blood vessel dilation.  They were not expecting that the chemical would be a gas, although nitric oxide dissolves easily in water.  The search for this chemical was made even more difficult by the fact that the nitric oxide in the human body is destroyed by hemoglobin within about three seconds of the time it is released in the blood vessel lining.

Nitric oxide now also appears to be the neurotransmitter that is mainly responsible for converting short-term memories to long-term memories in the brain.  This is another ability that often declines with aging. 

The body also concentrates high levels of nitric oxide in the fluid around a wound.  The exact function of nitric oxide in wound healing is unclear at this time.

In some hospitals, small amounts of nitric oxide are being mixed with the oxygen received by patients with certain lung disorders.  The results of this new treatment appear very promising.

Overall, the role of nitric oxide in the human body is a major area of current medical research.  Important new discoveries about the role of nitric oxide are being made every month.  The human body manufactures nitric oxide from only one nutrient:   arginine.

The remarkable wound healing enhancement of arginine appears to be due to its growth hormone releasing properties as well as its role as the body's sole source of nitric oxide.  There are a number of reports in the scientific literature about the wound healing properties of arginine and the usefulness of arginine before and after surgery.  Arginine can greatly accelerate the healing of broken bones and other accidental wounds.

Arginine is available as an intravenous fluid for surgical patients and those who have sustained severe injuries.  In spite of the considerable body of evidence showing arginine's usefulness in wound healing, it is almost never routinely used for this purpose, and few physicians are familiar with it (except in the case of Arginaid for oral use, mentioned below).

Anyone who wants to insure that, in the event of surgery or accidental injury, they receive adequate supplemental arginine should keep copies of the relevant medical journal articles on hand and assign a "Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care" to a trusted person who knows about these medical journal articles.

Arginine drinks and drink mixes are manufactured by Novartis Nutrition (a division of the major pharmaceutical company) and are frequently used in hospitals and nursing homes to enhance wound healing.  The arginine containing drinks produced by Novartis are sold under the brand name ArginaidArginaid is often used in difficult wound healing situations such as bed sores and burns.  Arginaid is available through the Walgreens web site, but is not sold by local Walgreens pharmacies.

The standard Arginaid drink contains too much carbohydrate to cause any growth hormone release in anyone.  The Arginaid drink promotes wound healing by other mechanisms.  Novartis also produces an Arginaid sugar-free powdered drink mix that is artificially sweetened.  This powdered Arginaid product may promote growth hormone release in individuals who are responsive to arginine.  In younger people, the powdered Arginaid mix may be more effective in promoting wound healing because of its potential to work through two different mechanisms.  Also, diabetics may be restricted to the artificially sweetened drink mix because of the high carbohydrate content of the original version of Arginaid.

Safety Notes:   Arginine can enhance the growth of herpes viruses and pseudomonas bacteria.  Anyone with herpes infections of the brain or eye or with any serious pseudomonas infection should never use arginine.  Anyone with other latent or active herpes infections should use arginine only with extreme caution.  Although arginine can promote the growth of these two infections, arginine also enhances the immune system, so the end result of arginine use can be positive or negative.

Arginine should only be used with extreme caution by diabetics (preferably under very close medical supervision) because of its insulin-blocking effects.  It should be used only with caution by borderline diabetics.  Arginine may be extremely beneficial, though, to some people with type II diabetes or sub-diabetic insulin resistance, but it is necessary for these people to monitor their blood glucose levels more closely than normal while using arginine.

As noted earlier, supplemental arginine should not be used by young people until at least five years after they have completed their long bone growth.

An excellent source of information on the practical aspects of arginine supplementation is The Life Extension Weight Loss Program by Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw.  (Now out of print.)  (See the Recommended Reading section.)  This book contains numerous references to the primary scientific literature.

References on the effects of arginine on wound healing and immune response:

Albina, Jorge and Reichner, Jonathan. "Nitric Oxide in Inflammation and Immunity." New Horizons. Vol.3, No.1. pp. 46-64. (1995)

Brittenden, J., and others. "Nutritional Pharmacology:  Effect of L-Arginine on Host Defences, Response to Trauma and Tumour Growth." Clinical Science. Vol. 86. p.123-132. (1994)

Barbul, Adrian, and others. "Arginine Enhances Wound Healing and Lymphocyte Immune Responses in Humans." Surgery. vol. 108, pp. 331-337, (August, 1990.)

Daly, John, and others. "Immune and Metabolic Effects of Arginine in the Surgical Patient." Annals of Surgery. vol. 208 No.4. pp. 512-523. (October, 1988)

Daly, John, and others. "Enteral Nutrition with Supplemental Arginine, RNA, and omega-3 Fatty Acids in Patients After Operation: Immunologic, metabolic, and clinical outcome." Surgery. Vol. 112. pp. 56-67. (July, 1992)

Kirk, Stephen J., and others. "Arginine Stimulates Wound Healing and immune Function in Elderly Human Beings." Surgery. Vol. 114, No.2. pp. 155-160. (1993)


Book: Amino Acids in Critical Care and Cancer. Latifi Rifat, ed. (CRC Press. 1994.)

 

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Visit the Life Extension Foundation web site for the Innerpower™ supplement mentioned in the article above.