Background: Experimentally, arginine enhances immune function and promotes wound healing. In this randomized double-blind study we investigated the effect of oral arginine supplementation on wound healing and T-cell function in elderly human beings (more than 65 years of age).
Methods: Thirty elderly, healthy, human volunteers (15 men and 15 women) received daily supplements of 30 gm arginine aspartate (17 gm free arginine). Fifteen volunteers (nine men and six women) received a placebo syrup. Fibroplastic wound responses were assessed by inserting a polytetrafluoroethylene catheter subcutaneously into the right deltoid region. Epithelialization was examined by creating a 2 x 2 cm split thickness wound on the lateral aspect of the upper thigh. Mitogenic response of peripheral blood lymphocytes to concanavalin A, phytohemagglutinin, pokeweed mitogen, and allogeneic stimuli was assayed at the beginning and end of supplementation. Polytetrafluoroethylene catheters were analyzed for alpha-amino nitrogen (assessment of total protein accumulation), hydroxyproline (index of reparative collagen synthesis), and DNA accumulation (index of cellular infiltration).
Results: Arginine supplementation for 2 weeks significantly enhanced wound catheter hydroxyproline accumulation (26.49 +/- 2.39 nmol/cm vs 17.41 +/- 2.04 nmol/cm) and total protein content (43.47 +/- 3.85 micrograms/cm vs 21.95 +/- 2.5 micrograms/cm). Arginine did not influence the DNA content of the catheters or the rate of epithelialization of the skin defect. Peripheral blood lymphocyte responses to mitogenic and allogenic stimulation were greater in the arginine supplemented group. Serum insulin-like growth factor-1 levels were significantly elevated in the arginine group.
Conclusions: The data suggest that arginine supplementation may improve wound healing and immune responses in the elderly.