Oral supplements of arginine and citrulline increase local nitric oxide (NO) production in the small intestine and this may be harmful under certain circumstances. Gastrointestinal toxicity was therefore reviewed with respect to the intestinal physiology of arginine, citrulline, ornithine, and cystine (which shares the same transporter) and the many clinical trials of supplements of the dibasic amino acids or N-acetylcysteine (NAC). The human intestinal dibasic amino acid transport system has high affinity and low capacity. L-arginine (but not lysine, ornithine, or D-arginine) induces water and electrolyte secretion that is mediated by NO, which acts as an absorbagogue at low levels and as a secretagogue at high levels. The action of many laxatives is NO mediated and there are reports of diarrhea following oral administration of arginine or ornithine. The clinical data cover a wide span of arginine intakes from 3 g/d to>100 g/d, but the standard of reporting adverse effects (e.g. nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea) was variable. Single doses of 3-6 g rarely provoked side effects and healthy athletes appeared to be more susceptible than diabetic patients to gastrointestinal symptoms at individual doses>9 g. This may relate to an effect of disease on gastrointestinal motility and pharmacokinetics. Most side effects of arginine and NAC occurred at single doses of >9 g in adults (>140 mg/kg) often when part of a daily regime of approximately>30 g/d (>174 mmol/d). In the case of arginine, this compares with the laxative threshold of the nonabsorbed disaccharide alcohol, lactitol (74 g or 194 mmol). Adverse effects seemed dependent on the dosage regime and disappeared if divided doses were ingested (unlike lactitol). Large single doses of poorly absorbed amino acids seem to provoke diarrhea. More research is needed to refine dosage strategies that reduce this phenomenon. It is suggested that dipeptide forms of arginine may meet this criterion.