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L-Arginine: An essential amino acid to shrink coronary plaque


L-arginine is the key to endothelial health. If l-arginine were a prescription medication, it would be among the hottest sellers. It’s not: it’s a nutritional supplement with far-reaching benefits for your plaque control program.

The plaque that took over the world!

You know the toadstools that grow in your back yard after a spring rain? That's how you should view the growth of coronary plaque. The average person with any degree of plaque—even so-called "minor" plaque—experiences a 30% per year growth in plaque size. If you've ever invested money, you know that a 30% annual rate of growth would give you the hottest stock or mutual funds around! But this frightening rate of growth cannot continue forever, or you and I would become one huge, overgrown plaque. This doesn't occur, of course, because you end up dying or having a major catastrophe like heart attack before the plaque reaches these proportions.

If we know how fast plaque will grow, can it be slowed? Or stopped? Or even reduced, i.e., can plaque shrink?

Nitric oxide-a prizewinning molecule

When we exercise, the arteries feeding the heart normally dilate. This permits a deluge of blood required to nourish heart muscle and meet the increased oxygen demands of physical exertion. But in the presence of cholesterol abnormalities, high blood pressure, inflammation, a high-saturated fat diet and sugary, refined foods, the coronary arteries constrict, choking off blood flow to the heart. This leads to repeated damage to the lining of the arteries that lays the foundation for plaque formation.

Back in 1980, Dr. Robert Furchgott was conducting experiments on rabbit arteries at the State University of New York. Entirely by accident, he noticed that arteries constricted when their inner lining, or endothelium, was removed, but dilated when the lining was intact. Dr. Furchgott theorized that the endothelium was necessary to allow the normal dilating behavior of arteries to occur, and that a damaged endothelium might not permit this phenomenon. A furious effort was sparked to identify the factor produced by the endothelium that permitted relaxation. Dr. Furchgott originally called this mysterious substance "endothelium-derived relaxation factor" or EDRF. For several years, identification of EDRF proved elusive, as is was present in active form for only mere seconds. Nonetheless, in 1986 EDRF was discovered to be nitric oxide. (Not to be confused with nitrous oxide, or "laughing gas", administered by dentists for anesthesia.) This discovery resulted in the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1998, awarded to Drs. Furchgott, Ignarro, and Murad. Nitric oxide is now recognized to be the crucial final signaling molecule for many human processes and is the single most powerful artery dilating agent known.

L-arginine's main role in the human body is to provide the fuel for production of nitric oxide. L-arginine is metabolized by the enzyme nitric oxide synthase in the lining of the arterial wall to produce a supply of nitric oxide. Just as in Dr. Furchgott's experiments, nitric oxide relaxes the muscle cells that control the "tone" of your body's arteries. It’s not unusual for vessels like the heart's coronary arteries to enlarge up to 50% in diameter when nitric oxide is readily available. Because of its extremely short life, a constant supply of nitric oxide is required to maintain relaxed arteries. Any drop in nitric oxide production and arteries constrict. Left unchecked, chronic constriction damages the artery lining, which then promotes plaque growth. Once this process begins, plaque mushrooms 30% per year. Plaque-filled arteries are less and less able to produce nitric oxide, yielding even more injury. Thus, a vicious cycle ensues.

L-arginine: No secret to the drug industry

The pharmaceutical industry is acutely aware of the power of nitric oxide and l-arginine for protection against coronary plaque. The popular prescription medicine for male erectile dysfunction, Viagra, boosts nitric oxide. It was originally intended to be a heart drug, but proved to be more potent for the penile circulation. The search continues in earnest to develop a nitric oxide-increasing drug that will shrink plaque. Because l-arginine is a naturally-occurring substance, it is not protectable through the U.S. Patent Office. Competitors can therefore sell it freely and make development costs (hundreds of millions of dollars for a patentable drug) difficult or impossible to recover. So pharmaceutical companies have been scrambling to develop derivatives of l-arginine that are patentable. But we still have access to l-arginine and all its fabulous benefits. Just because an agent does not require a doctor's prescription doesn't mean it can't be powerful and effective. In fact, l-arginine is among the most incredible and effective supplements available to the public. (Incidentally, l-arginine also has modest penile erection-promoting effects, though the full benefit is rather slow to develop and may require 3 months.)

L-arginine shrinks coronary plaque

L-arginine is a critical ingredient in the Track Your Plaque program. In our experience, l-arginine is among the several key strategies required to gain control over coronary plaque and halt the otherwise inevitable 30% growth in plaque. Just about everyone with a heart scan score above zero (meaning that coronary plaque is present) is advised to add l-arginine to their personal program to facilitate reduction of plaque.

The scientific evidence supporting the use of l-arginine to reduce heart attack risk and to shrink existing coronary plaque is considerable. First of all, the average American ingests about 5.4 grams (5400 mg) of l-arginine per day, since it is an amino acid naturally contained in many foods. Meats of all varieties, nuts, and dairy products are rich in l-arginine, so your body is already accustomed to several-thousand milligram quantities each and every day. Many clinical studies have used intravenous l-arginine, and today intravenous l-arginine is commonly administered by endocrinologists as a provocative test of pituitary function in children with suspected short stature (slow growth). Approximately 50% of the l-arginine taken orally finds its way into the bloodstream, the other 50% being metabolized by the intestinal lining.

L-arginine can help you seize control of coronary plaque through several mechanisms:


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Copyright 2005, Track Your Plaque.