L-arginine is an amino acid that’s available as a health supplement. Widely used for heart health conditions such as high blood pressure and coronary artery disease, some people believe that l-arginine could potentially help to treat erectile dysfunction (ED).
Many of these claims come from natural health websites that position L-arginine as a natural alternative to ED drugs such as sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra) and tadalafil (Cialis).
Right now, the scientific evidence showing that L-arginine is effective is very limited, with several studies producing different results. However, L-arginine can potentially have other benefits that make it a useful supplement for certain people.
As with all drugs and supplements, L-arginine should only be taken after speaking to your doctor about its potential effects on your health.
The Benefits of L-Arginine
L-arginine, or arginine, is a semi-essential amino acid that’s used for a variety of purposes. The body uses l-arginine for healing wounds, maintaining hormone production, promoting a healthy immune system and helping the kidneys filter waste.
L-arginine is also the immediate precursor of nitric oxide -- an important molecule for dilating the blood vessels and improving blood flow. This makes it a popular supplement for conditions such as high blood pressure.
Because nitric oxide is essential for developing an erection, L-arginine is viewed as a potential non-pharmaceutical treatment for ED.
Is L-Arginine Effective at Treating ED?
As with all supplements, it’s important to take the claims made by manufacturers of l-arginine products with a grain of salt.
Right now, there aren’t many studies examining the effects that L-arginine could potentially have on erectile dysfunction. The few studies that are available show mixed results:
- One study from 1999 found that L-arginine was no more effective as a first-line treatment for impotence than a placebo.
- Interestingly, another study from 2003 showed that L-arginine, when used in combination with Pycnogenol, caused a significant improvement in sexual function in men with ED.
Unlike ED drugs, L-arginine supplements aren’t subject to as many regulations regarding safety or efficacy. If you use medication for ED -- such as sildenafil, vardenafil or tadalafil -- it’s best not to consider L-arginine supplements as a potential replacement.
So, is L-arginine effective at treating ED? Right now, it simply isn’t possible to say. The current studies show mixed results, making it impossible to conclusively state that L-arginine has any real benefits as an erectile dysfunction treatment.
Does this mean that L-arginine is worthless as a supplement? Of course not. Like many other supplements, the fact that L-arginine isn’t proven to be effective as an ED treatment doesn’t mean that it can’t potentially have other health benefits.
Should You Use An L-Arginine Supplement?
L-arginine has very specific effects on the body. As a supplement, its primary benefit is that it can potentially lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure -- a benefit that's backed up by medical studies.
It’s important to note that most people produce enough L-arginine naturally. Deficiencies are rare, meaning that you probably don’t need to take an L-arginine supplement unless you’ve been specifically told to take
It’s also important to know that L-arginine might not be the best treatment for lowering high blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, you should always seek advice from your doctor before using any supplement or medication.
This article was reviewed by Brendan Levy, MD.