Does l-citrulline supplementation improve exercise blood flow in older adults?

Exp Physiol. 2017 Dec 1;102(12):1661-1671. doi: 10.1113/EP086587. Epub 2017 Oct 13.


What is the central question of this study? Does short-term supplementation with l-citrulline in order to increase l-arginine improve exercise blood flow and peripheral dilatation responses to exercise in older adults? What is the main finding and its importance? l-Citrulline increased femoral blood flow by 11% and vascular conductance by 14% during lower-limb exercise in older men, whereas no changes were observed in older women. This modest improvement in bulk muscle blood flow in older men has implications for altering muscle metabolism that may result in enhanced exercise tolerance in older adults. l-Citrulline (Cit) increases l-arginine (Arg), the primary substrate for nitric oxide biosynthesis. We tested the hypothesis that muscle blood flow during exercise would be enhanced by Cit supplementation in older adults. Femoral artery blood flow was measured during calf exercise using Doppler ultrasound, and vascular conductance (FVC) was calculated in 25 older adults (13 women and 12 men) before and after 14 days of Cit (6 g day-1 ) and placebo (maltodextrin) in a randomized, double-blind, crossover study. Plasma [Arg] and resting blood pressure were also measured before and after each condition. Women and men were analysed separately because of significant sex-by-condition interactions for the change in exercise blood flow and FVC. Plasma [Arg] was increased by 30 and 35% after Cit (P < 0.01) in women and men, respectively, with no change after placebo. Citrulline lowered diastolic blood pressure in men (75 ± 9 versus 71 ± 6 mmHg, P = 0.02), but this variable remained unchanged in women. Blood flow and FVC during exercise at higher workloads were increased after Cit in men (flow, 521 ± 134 versus 584 ± 166 ml min-1 , P = 0.04; FVC, 5.0 ± 1.5 versus 5.8 ± 1.7 m, min mmHg-1 , P = 0.01) but were not different after placebo. These variables were not altered by Cit in women. Adjusting for baseline diastolic blood pressure removed (P = 0.10) the difference in FBF and FVC following Cit in men. These results indicate that l-citrulline has a modest effect of improving muscle blood flow during submaximal exercise in older men.

Keywords: aging; blood flow; citrulline; exercise.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aging*
  • Blood Flow Velocity
  • Citrulline / administration & dosage*
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Femoral Artery / drug effects*
  • Femoral Artery / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle Contraction*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / blood supply*
  • Regional Blood Flow
  • Sex Factors
  • Texas
  • Time Factors
  • Vasodilation / drug effects*


  • Citrulline