Arginine Plus: Do L Arginine Benefits Trump Lifestyle?

Some supplements  for blood pressure use L arginine plus other items to lower blood pressure naturally.  But are L arginine benefits stronger than lifestyle?

Natural medicine is not exempt from taking the wrong approach to fixing today’s chronic health problems.  I have heard the term “green allopathy” to describe “natural” practitioners who use natural compounds in an allopathic (allopath = MD) model.  A perfect example is using red yeast rice to lower cholesterol.  Does it work?  Seems to, but it’s a bad question to ask.  The best question to ask is if this one cause-one cure approach fits with natural approaches.

The bottom line is that is doesn’t.  Today’s chronic diseases are the result of multiple aspects of poor lifestyles that come together to create a disease state like diabetes, high blood pressure or cancer.  If your lifestyle is pristine but you have Wonder bread for breakfast your chances of becoming diabetic are slim (NOT that I am suggesting that Wonder bread in any way, shape or form is ok for human consumption…).

So what about blood pressure? 

A little Biochemistry 501.

First, we need to understand a compound called nitric oxide, or NO.  It all starts with the search for a molecule that was known to relax the blood vessels and lower blood pressure.  Researchers knew it existed, but just couldn’t figure out the actual compound (the initial term was Endothelial-Derived-Relaxing-Factor, or EDRF).  The compound was identified by Louis Ignarro in 1986 as NO.   Basically, NO is a small molecule that has many functions, one of which is dilation of blood vessels to increase blood flow (aka nitroglycerin tablets, Viagra…).

There are two versions of the enzyme that produces NO in our body, called nitric oxide synthase.  One version of these can be “turned on” by giving the amino acid L arginine.  Thus was born the rise of L arginine, the wonder supplement.  Direct marketing companies were formed entirely based on giving more L arginine.  The bodybuilding industry hit it hard as well, produced “explode” type products containing L arginine to get you from a Stan Laurel to Swartzenegger in 2 weeks.

They all got caught up in the “green allopathy” model and forgot something important…

Nitric oxide has an arch enemy.

Asymmetrical dimethyl arginine (ADMA) is a compound that can be considered the arch enemy of nitric oxide.  When ADMA levels are elevated, the enzyme that produces nitric oxide, nitric oxide synthase, is slowed down, resulting in negative effects on blood pressure and our blood vessels. It basically counteracts the L arginine plus nitric oxide combo.

So what causes ADMA levels to go up? 

Back to our ole’ friend prediabetes.  Elevated insulin slows the enzyme that breaks ADMA levels, leading to higher levels of ADMA.  Higher levels of ADMA means that the L arginine benefits are not going to have any long term effects.

Previous studies have looked at whether L arginine benefits on protecting the blood vessels were real and have fallen short.

This particular study goes beyond blood pressure to see if L arginine could have an effect on the cause, diabetes.  But, since L arginine was not fixing anything in the first place, researchers did not find that L arginine had any effect on the risk of developing diabetes.

However, not to completely disparage L arginine, the researchers did find that supplementation over the course of 18 months did seem to improve the function of the beta cells of the pancreas and improve sugar handling in the body.  Not a bad thing, but still follows the “green allopathy” mentality.

 Overall, lifestyle changes designed to lower your risk of diabetes are the best option, and relying on a single supplement to fix the ills of our lifestyles will likely fall short.

James Bogash

For more than a decade, Dr. Bogash has stayed current with the medical literature as it relates to physiology, disease prevention and disease management. He uses his knowledge to educate patients, the community and cyberspace on the best way to avoid and / or manage chronic diseases using lifestyle and targeted supplementation.