Background: Patients with heart failure have reduced peripheral blood flow at rest, during exercise, and in response to endothelium-dependent vasodilators. Nitric oxide formed from L-arginine metabolism in endothelial cells contributes to regulation of blood flow under these conditions. A randomized, double-blind crossover study design was used to determine whether supplemental oral L-arginine can augment peripheral blood flow and improve functional status in patients with moderate to severe heart failure.
Methods and results: Fifteen subjects were given 6 weeks of oral L-arginine hydrochloride (5.6 to 12.6 g/d) and 6 weeks of matched placebo capsules in random sequence. Compared with placebo, supplemental oral L-arginine significantly increased forearm blood flow during forearm exercise, on average from 5.1 +/- 2.8 to 6.6 +/- 3.4 mL. min-1. dL-1 (P < .05). Furthermore, functional status was significantly better on L-arginine compared with placebo, as indicated by increased distances during a 6-minute walk test (390 +/- 91 versus 422 +/- 86 m, P < .05) and lower scores on the Living With Heart Failure questionnaire (55 +/- 28 versus 42 +/- 26, P < .05). Oral L-arginine also improved arterial compliance from 1.99 +/- 0.38 to 2.36 +/- 0.30 mL/mm Hg (P < .001) and reduced circulating levels of endothelin from 1.9 +/- 1.1 to 1.5 +/- 1.1 pmol/L (P < .05).
Conclusions: Supplemental oral L-arginine had beneficial effects in patients with heart failure. Further studies are needed to confirm the therapeutic potential of supplemental oral L-arginine and to identify mechanisms of action in patients with heart failure.