As we age, it becomes increasingly important to keep our blood vessels in good shape in order to prevent cardiovascular disease. I've shown you a number of ways you can do this, from eating right to exercising to getting enough sleep. And now, scientists from the University of Alabama have discovered another weapon we can add to our arsenal: amino acid supplements.
For this study, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the researchers divided 31 participants, ages 65 to 87, into two groups. One group took a placebo. The second group took a daily supplement containing 3 g of beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (I'll call it HMB), 14 g of glutamine, and 14 g of arginine.
After six months, the researchers measured the participants' flow-mediated dilation (FMD). This helps determine blood flow and vascular health. Those who took the supplement showed a 27% increase in FMD, while there were no changes in the placebo group.
The researchers were a little surprised to find that there weren't any statistically significant changes in levels of their inflammation markers. They expected a reduction in inflammation would be the reason behind the increased FMD scores. Since this wasn't the case, they posited that the arginine may be contributing to synthesis of nitric oxide, which is a powerful vasodilator. Arginine is actually a precursor to nitric oxide.
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While I would expect nitric oxide to increase FMD scores, I don't think it was just the arginine that caused the effect in this case. I told you back in April that taking oral arginine isn't very effective at boosting nitric oxide levels. In fact, less than one-tenth of 1% of oral arginine actually goes into nitric oxide production.
However, another study found that using these amino acids together can increase nitric oxide production. This gets a little complicated. The researchers in this study found exactly what we've reported before — oral arginine doesn't substantially increase NO production. And glutamine by itself actually inhibits the production of NO. But when you take the two together, something interesting happens. The arginine inhibits the ability of glutamine to inhibit NO. Just like in math, two negatives make a positive. And that's what happens here. Combining arginine with glutamine actually increases NO production. This action is completely different than the arginine production of NO.
Definitively determining the reasons behind the effects were beyond the scope of the study. For now, it's enough to know that the supplement combination was beneficial. While it certainly isn't a panacea for cardiovascular disease, it does seem to have significant effects in older adults.
So if you want to take arginine to boost your NO production, make sure you're taking glutamine as well. HMB can help boost the results too. But all of this gets too complicated for me. It's easier to boost your NO levels and increase your circulation simply by taking a supplement such as CircO2, which can directly convert to NO.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD