Stubborn hypertension is really frustrating. For those who suffer with it, they can do everything right and it just won't come down. That puts them at a higher risk for heart attack and stroke. But there's evidence that a deficiency of nitric oxide can be the reason for the high blood pressure. For people under 40, that means a simple amino acid combination could be all you need. For people over 40, you may have to try another option.
The amino acids are arginine and citrulline. You've probably heard about arginine's ability to produce nitric oxide. Arginine works because it provides the raw material your body needs to produce nitric oxide (NO). Your body uses an enzyme in the inner lining of your arteries to produce NO and dilate your small arteries. When this happens, it frees up your blood flow and reduces your blood pressure.
But it does something else that's just as important. It causes your arteries to function better. It does this by making them more flexible and pliable. That's just the opposite of hardened arteries, which lead to higher blood pressure and heart problems. Doctors can measure this arterial function with easy tests. And researchers have used these tests to study the effects of arginine and citrulline.
One study found large arginine alone caused significantly greater artery elasticity than the placebo did. The arginine also lowered vascular resistance (resistance to blood flow) significantly as well. The researchers also noted that the patients taking arginine had lower systolic blood pressure. Arginine was even able to lower aldosterone levels. This is an adrenal hormone that can make your kidneys hold on to sodium and water, which causes higher blood pressure.
Citrulline has similar effects. A study back in 2009 found that citrulline helps reduce blood pressure much like arginine. Many doctors don't use citrulline because arginine is easier to use. Your body converts citrulline to arginine. So doctors would rather just use the arginine. However, some studies have found that patients taking equivalent doses of citrulline and arginine had higher blood levels of arginine when they took the citrulline. And a German study found that it takes half as much citrulline to raise arginine blood levels to the same level as the arginine.
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How is this possible? It's quite simple, really. When you consume arginine, your stomach acids break it down far more than it does the citrulline. What's more, your digestive tract has an enzyme called arginase that breaks down arginine, but not citrulline. And third, citrulline is able to bypass the liver entirely, so its conversion to arginine is much smoother than arginine's. In fact, one study found that over 80% of citrulline converts to arginine in the blood vessels.
But there's even another reason to use citrulline rather than arginine if you're over 40. Many people over the age of 40 find that arginine has no impact on their blood pressure. If you are in this group, your body may not be able to convert the arginine into NO. In these cases, citrulline might be a better option.
With that said, I think taking both amino acids together is better than taking only one by itself. Take 2-3 grams of arginine two to three times a day. And take 3 grams of citrulline twice daily. Both of these amino acids are readily available at most health foods stores and online. You also can eat foods that are high in arginine. These include nuts (including peanuts), sunflower and sesame seeds, raisins, coconut, dairy, meat, garlic, and some grains (oats, brown rice, buckwheat, barley).
There are some warnings you need to know about with arginine. First, it can trigger herpes, especially if you're taking this much. So if you have herpes of any kind, you'll want to avoid arginine. It also can interact with some medications, so make sure you talk to your doctor before taking it if you're on any medications. Third, women who are pregnant should avoid both arginine (and citrulline) unless your obstetrician gives you approval to use it. Finally, arginine can cause nausea at these doses, so make sure you take it with food.
With all of these issues with arginine, citrulline is a much better way to go. It's more effective and has few problems. And since it doesn't have the absorption issues arginine does, it's perfect for people over the age of 40. You can find citrulline in CircO2. This product converts to NO much faster and easier than arginine. And it's proven to lower even stubborn cases of high blood pressure.
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Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology, June 7, 2010.
"American Journal of Hypertension"; Oral L-Citrulline Supplementation Attenuates Blood Pressure Response to Cold Pressor Test in Young Men; A Figueroa, et al.; 2009.
Steve Kroening is the editor of Nutrient Insider, a twice-a-week email newsletter that brings you the latest healing breakthroughs from the world of nutrition and dietary supplements. For over 20 years, Steve has worked hand-in-hand with some of the nation's top doctors, including Drs. Robert Rowen, Frank Shallenberger, Nan Fuchs, William Campbell Douglass, and best-selling author James Balch. Steve is the author of the book Practical Guide to Home Remedies. As a health journalist, Steve's articles have appeared in countless magazines, blogs, and websites.