From improving erectile function to enhancing the appearance of veins in bodybuilders, the amino acid L-arginine has been rumoured to yield a whole host of benefits for men.
However, whilst there is some evidence to suggest L-arginine is capable of these things, many of the claims made about this amino acid have been largely aggrandised (so, sorry bodybuilders - taking L-arginine won’t make your forearm veins suddenly bulge out like a frog’s throat).
Nonetheless, there are still some benefits of L-arginine for men that have a fair degree of scientific backing. Let’s take a look at them.
What is L-Arginine?
L-Arginine is an amino acid that is naturally produced in the body. It can also be found in protein-dense foods like red meat, fish, whole grains, and soy.
It usually comes in the form of tablets, powders, and capsules, but it can also come in the form of creams and gels.
Possible Benefits of L-Arginine for Men
- Erectile dysfunction: L-arginine helps to produce nitric oxide (NO) - a vital molecule involved in getting and maintaining erections.
NO widens the blood vessels in the penis. This is important because erections are essentially the result of increased blood flow to the penis. By widening these blood vessels, NO allows more blood to flow into the penis - resulting in stronger, firmer erections.
However, the evidence supporting L-Arginine’s supposed ability to treat erectile dysfunction is relatively weak (especially when compared with sildenafil). For example, in one 32-man trial, only five men (17%) experienced enhanced erectile function after being treated with L-Arginine for 34 days.
- Blood pressure: there is some evidence to suggest L-Arginine can help reduce blood pressure. In 2015, the prevalence of high blood pressure amongst men in the UK was higher than that of women (31% versus 26% respectively).
L-Arginine has been shown to improve resting blood pressure in people with hypertension (high blood pressure).
Coincidentally, well-controlled blood pressure also happens to be good news for erections, as high blood pressure can lead to cardiovascular diseases that make it harder to achieve a strong erection (you can read more about this in our brilliant article “The Heart and the Penis").
- Angina: angina is a type of chest pain caused by restricted blood flow to the heart. Chronic angina affects more men than women in the UK (2 million versus 900,000 respectively). It is most commonly caused by atherosclerosis - a cardiovascular disease that clogs the arteries with fatty substances.
L-Arginine has been found to ease the symptoms of angina in those with mild to severe forms of the condition. However, larger and longer-term studies are needed to corroborate these findings.
Side-effects of L-Arginine
- Abdominal pain
- Allergic response
- Airway inflammation or worsening of asthma symptoms
- Increased risk of death if taken after a heart attack
- Re-triggering of herpes virus (if you have had cold sores or genital herpes)
L-Arginine may also adversely interact with some types of medication, such as:
- High blood pressure medication
- Erectile dysfunction medication
- Anticoagulants and anti-platelet drugs
- Diabetes drugs
Consult your doctor before attempting to take L-arginine to ensure it is safe for you to take and does not interact with any medication you are on.
The Bottom Line
On the surface, L-arginine may have several benefits for men. However, larger and longer-term studies are needed to validate the claims made about its ability to treat erectile dysfunction, high blood pressure, and angina. On the other hand, there are a number of good prescription treatments which have been well-studied scientifically and proven to successfully treat all of these conditions.
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