Arginine, or L-arginine, is an amino acid that occurs in foods such as dairy, fish, poultry, and other meats. It is a building block of protein.
Some research suggests that arginine may benefit health, for example by relieving chest pain, improving erectile dysfunction, and reducing high blood pressure.
The human body produces arginine, and children require it for growth and development. Deficiencies are rare — most adults get any extra arginine they need from the diet.
Read on to learn more about foods rich in arginine, the amino acid’s benefits, and possible risks.
Various meats, dairy products, seeds, and nuts contain arginine. Adding some or all of these foods to the diet can help a person increase their arginine intake.
Foods rich in arginine include:
1. Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are significant sources of arginine.
Pumpkin seeds have one of the highest concentrations of the amino acid, with a cup of dried pumpkin or squash seeds providing 6.905 grams (g) of arginine.
Though most people in America tend to spit out watermelon seeds, they are also a good source of arginine, providing 5.289 g per cup.
Sesame seeds are also a good source of arginine, providing 4.875 g per cup.
Many types of nuts contain arginine:
- dried walnuts contain 4.522 g per cup
- almonds contain 3.525 g per cup
- pine nuts contain 3.258 g per cup
The preparation of the nuts only slightly affects the amount of arginine they offer, but varieties without added oil or salt are generally more healthful.
2. Meat products
Meat is a complete source of protein because it includes all of the amino acids the body requires, including arginine.
Some of the best sources of arginine are white meats, especially turkey breast.
The following meat products provide high amounts of arginine:
- A turkey breast provides 16.207 g.
- Chicken contains 2.790 g of arginine per cup. This meat is low in fat and rich in protein.
- One pork loin chop contains 2.661 g of arginine.
- Beef offers 4.131 g of arginine per cooked pound of meat. Beef is rich in protein, but it contains more fat than many other protein sources.
Legumes are a family that includes beans, peas, and pulses. They are an excellent source of plant-based protein.
The following legumes provide plenty of arginine and other amino acids:
- Soybeans offer a good alternative to meat as a source of arginine. A cup of soybeans contains 5.865 g of the amino acid, making these beans a good alternative to meats.
- Raw peanuts provide 4.567 g of arginine per cup. Peanuts are full of healthful unsaturated fats and are a great source of plant-based protein.
- Chickpeas, or garbanzo beans, contain 3.878 g per cup. Chickpeas are a good source of healthful fats and protein. They are a popular addition to salads and are the main ingredient in hummus.
Seaweed is a popular health food that provides high levels of arginine.
A cup of dried seaweed contains 4.645 g of the amino acid. Anyone who needs to increase their arginine intake may want to consider adding seaweed to their diet.
What does arginine do in the body?
The medical community classifies arginine as a semi-essential amino acid. This means that the body produces it and also absorbs it from foods.
There are three types of amino acids:
- semi-essential acids, which the body produces and absorbs from outside sources
- essential acids, which the body does not produce
- non-essential acids, which the body produces and does not need to supplement through absorption
Children need to absorb a certain amount of arginine through the diet to support their growth. Adults tend only to need what their body produces.
However, some adults do not produce sufficient amounts of arginine. If they do not absorb enough from the diet, they can develop a deficiency.
According to research published in 2012, problems with the blood vessels or the immune system can lead to arginine deficiency. The authors concluded that further research is needed to determine the effectiveness of supplements.
Health benefits of arginine
Arginine supplements can promote health in various ways.
Results of a study from 2013 suggest that arginine supplements may improve blood flow in people with uncomplicated diabetes. Improved blood flow may reduce the effects of several cardiovascular conditions, including coronary artery disease and angina.
However, arginine is not a suitable remedy for all heart conditions. For example, most doctors do not recommend taking arginine after a recent heart attack.
Arginine may also help treat erectile dysfunction that results from cardiac issues. For example, if a problem with the blood vessels makes it difficult to sustain an erection, a doctor may recommend arginine supplements to help improve blood flow.
Arginine may also:
- help the kidneys work more efficiently
- promote wound healing
- boost the immune system
- balance hormones
Risks of arginine
Some evidence suggests that high levels of arginine can make symptoms of herpes worse, potentially leading to outbreaks or cold sores. This is because the herpes virus needs arginine to multiply.
Also, absorbing more arginine may indirectly cause cold sores by disrupting the body’s balance of arginine and another amino acid called lysine.
Lysine can treat and prevent cold sores, and it shares an absorption pathway with arginine. If more arginine is present, the body may not be able to absorb enough lysine.
People with liver cirrhosis or low blood pressure should avoid taking arginine supplements. These supplements are also not suitable for anyone who has recently had a heart attack.
Most adults produce enough arginine, but children need to absorb extra amounts from the diet to support their growth and development.
Some disorders can lead to arginine deficiency. In this case, a person may need to incorporate arginine-rich foods into the diet.
A variety of foods are rich in arginine, including legumes, nuts, and meats. There are risks to taking in too much arginine, a person should speak to their doctor before using arginine supplements.