Arginine is scientifically well-established as a growth hormone releaser. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work. Here’s why, plus what you can do about it.
The Premier Growth Hormone Releaser
No single ingredient among all HGH supplements is better than arginine. Sure, there are lots of formulas that are built around this amino acid, including lysine, ornithine, and glutamine, among the other amino acids. In his book, Grow Young with HGH, Dr. Ronald Klatz calls arginine The ‘GH Provocateur’ because of its role in causing the pituitary gland to release growth hormone. It is almost a miracle supplement for that purpose.
I’ve been studying and experimenting with HGH supplements for a couple of years now. They are like most supplements, or so I thought, in that the effects are subtle. That is just a fancy way to say that I wasn’t sure what I was getting out of them. I took them before bedtime, since I know that the biggest growth hormone spike in every 24-hour period comes about 2 hours after falling asleep at night. I also took them before weightlifting workouts on an empty stomach, as prescribed and recommended by all researchers on the topic.
One thing that kept bugging me, in the back of my mind, though, was a comment by Dr. Klatz, on p. 203, as follows: “Arginine supplements should be effective in raising growth hormone levels, especially in people under fifty.” Bummer, I thought. I’m 63, so what does that mean for me?
What I have concluded is that Dr. Klatz’ comment could be amended to say, “…should not be effective in raising growth hormone levels in people over fifty.” Double bummer!
My copy of the HGH book is marked up, highlighted, and full of my comments in the margins. I had to go over the chapter on GH-releasing nutrients a few times before I finally ran across a reference to this article:
Isidori A, Lo Monaco A, Cappa M. 1981. A study of growth hormone release in man after oral administration of amino acids. Curr Med Res Opin. vol. 7(no. 7): pp. 475-81.
A study was carried out in 15 male volunteers to evaluate qualitatively the secretion of growth factors following stimulation by oral amino acids. The results showed that oral administration of a combination of two amino acids (1200 mg 1-lysine plus 1200 mg 1-arginine) provoked a release of pituitary somatotropin and insulin. This phenomenon was reproducible and the growth hormone secreted in response to this stimulation had biological activity (as demonstrated by a radioreceptor assay and somatomedin induction). The effect appeared to be specific to the combination of the two amino acids; neither of the amino acids demonstrated appreciable stimulating activity when administered alone, even at the same doses.
Two things stand out about this abstract:
First: The combination of arginine and lysine is a better growth hormone releaser than is either one alone. So stacking amino acids, as bodybuilders have been doing for decades, is a better strategy than just loading up on arginine.
Second: This is a classic example of a poor abstract because crucial information is missing. This I discovered by finding a review of the entire article. What is missing is that the ‘arginine’ used in the study was actually arginine pyroglutamate (for reasons of avoiding competitive uptake of arginine and lysine … it’s a long story). More importantly, also missing from this abstract was this crucial point: The subjects in this study were all male, ages 15-20 years.
That means that this study, while seemingly promising, is pretty useless for anything related to senior fitness. So how about a study on us baby boomers? Here is the comment that Dr. Klatz provided (p. 205):
While the combined amino acids may work in younger people, Emiliano Corpas and his group at the Gerontology Center in Baltimore found that in men over age sixty-five, arginine/lysine even in doses more than twice that of the Italian [Isidori] study did not raise either growth hormone levels or IGF-1 [a better indicator of HGH function]. Larger doses beyond the 6 grams of arginine and 6 grams of lysine used in the study may be effective, say the researchers, but are associated with diarrhea and other adverse gastrointestinal effects.
For all you inquiring minds, here are the details on the reference and published abstract for the Corpas study:
Corpas E, Blackman MR, Roberson R, Scholfield D, Harman SM. 1993. Oral arginine-lysine does not increase growth hormone or insulin-like growth factor-I in old men. J Gerontol. 1993 Jul;48(4):M128-33.
BACKGROUND: Older adults tend to have reduced growth hormone (GH) secretion and insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) levels as well as changes in body composition which are partially reversed by GH injections. Arginine stimulates GH release, and lysine may amplify this response. We investigated whether oral arginine/lysine could be used to increase basal IGF-I and GH levels in non-obese old men (age 69 +/- 5 years; mean +/- SD) to values similar to those of untreated young men (age 26 +/- 4 years).
METHODS: Two groups of 8 healthy old men were treated with 3 g of arginine plus 3 g of lysine or with placebo capsules twice daily for 14 days. Before and on day 14 of each treatment GH levels were determined in blood samples taken at 20-minute intervals from 2000-0800 h, IGF-I was measured at 0800 h, and a 1 microgram/kg GHRH stimulation test was done.
RESULTS: At baseline, mean GH peak amplitude (p < .02) and serum IGF-I (p <.0001) were lower, whereas GHRH responses were similar, in old vs young men. Arginine/lysine did not significantly alter spontaneous or GHRH-stimulated GH levels, or serum IGF-I. Arginine absorption was age-independent. The correlation (p < .005) between measured increments in serum arginine and increases in serum GH after a single dose of arginine/lysine was similar in old and young groups. CONCLUSIONS: Our data suggest that oral arginine/lysine is not a practical means of chronically enhancing GH secretion in old men.
The good news personally is that I’m not ‘old’ yet … I’ve got 6 years until I reach the age of the ‘old men’ in this study. The bad news is that there is no dose-response curve that shows what dose might actually work for us oldsters (i.e., probably starting at about age 50). Heavy bummer!
Old Guys Unite: Toss Your HGH Supplements!
Fortunately, I have kept doing my research, just knowing that I could find the answer to what I can use as a growth hormone releaser as I continue to mature. The answer is: exercise.
Exercise As A Growth Hormone Releaser
I’ve been digging into the concept of ‘Mininum Effective Dose’ for my workouts – meaning, how can I use my time most efficiently, the most effective exercise in the least amount of time, to reach the lean body mass and fitness that I want.
Here is the best that I have found in every respect so far, including boosting growth hormone levels:
Burst Training: In the old days we would call this ‘wind sprints’. Indeed, 5 or so wind sprints of 60 to 90 seconds, with a 4-minute recovery between runs, is the best pattern for all ages. Alright! I can do that! Indeed, that is what I am doing 2-3 times per week now.
Barring that, since running full-tilt is not for all of us mature folks, you can accomplish the same thing on a stationary bike, a treadmill, a stair master, or any other kind of equipment that allows you to go full out for a short time.
I will have lots more to say about this approach as I think about how what I want to write on the subject, probably including some simple videos. Just stay tuned to this blog to see what’s next. Or, request my free report on getting lean without exercise, and you will also receive periodic updates of my posts.
That ought to do it for now. A lot of great food for thought.
All the best in natural health,
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