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
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
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Copyright 2005, Track Your Plaque.