Healing, Immunity and Anabolics (Zinc / Arginine)
by Max Motyka, R.Ph., M.S.
The complex interplay of the various components of the human body is a constant source of interest to scientists. So too is the myriad of roles played by each of the various elements which are considered to be essential nutrients. Is there a common thread among the systems of the human body that control our ability to heal from injury, ward off or recover from infectious disease, and positive nitrogen balance (anabolic state)? However, the means to accomplish this is not as simple as one would like. If it were, all we would have to do is eat a lot of protein. After all, isn’t protein the key to having a positive nitrogen balance, which would give rise to healing, immunity and the other benefits of anabolism? In fact, much work has been done to show that protein has a very positive influence here, because the body is a complex interplay of components, and essential nutrients play many roles in its function. No single element of this dynamic equilibrium is the sole answer to any of its systems. Simply stated, more than protein is needed.
Research has uncovered many nutrients that play important roles in tissue healing, maintaining and stimulating the immune system, and in the generation of growth and lean body mass. The immune system is positively impacted by protein, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, vitamins A, C and E, the B-complex vitamins, as well as the minerals zinc, manganese, iron, selenium, copper, magnesium, calcium, sulfur, iodine and chromium. (Ashmead, H.D., "Increased Superoxide Dismutase Activity Resulting From Ingested Amino Acid Chelated Minerals", Proc Albion Int. Conf. Human Nutr., Jun 21-22, 1995. Lehmann S., "Immune Function And Nutrition. The Clinical Role Of The Intravenous Nurse:, J Intraven Nurs, 14(6):406-20 1991 Nov-Dec). Some nutrients play more roles in one system than others, but all play roles.
Arginine’s Emerging Roles
Anabolics/Growth and Arginine
Arginine has been seen, in repeated studies, to be a consistent and potent stimulus for growth hormone release. Research documenting this effect can be found as far back as the late 60’s and early 70’s. The exact mechanism is believed to be that an arginine induced growth hormone release is mediated mainly by a decrease in somatostatinergic tone (Clin Endocrinol, vol. 36, no. 5, 1992 May, Koppeschaar HP, et al.). Somatostatin is a peptide which has the job of inhibiting the release of growth hormone. By decreasing somatostatinergic tone, arginine decreases somatostatin’s ability to inhibit the release of growth hormone, and thus leads to an increase in the release of growth hormone. In a more recent human study, M. Hurson, et al [J. Paren and Enteral Nutr, 19 (3): 222-30, 1995, May-June] examined the effect of arginine supplementation on the metabolism of healthy, nonsmoking, elderly volunteers. A two-week course of supplemental arginine was found to cause a significant increase in serum insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) and an improved and positive nitrogen balance. No adverse effects were observed with the use of the supplemental arginine.
Immunity and Arginine
Lately, there has been much interest in the use of arginine to stimulate immune response. Supplementation with arginine has been shown to cause a positive effect on the immune system and to promote wound healing. L-arginine significantly increases natural killer cell and lymphokine-activated killer cell activity, and was further found to increase lymphocyte mitogenic reactivity (Surgery 115(2):205-212, 1994 Feb, Brittenden J et al). This means that arginine has a positive impact on the body’s cell-mediated immunity. Earlier studies in animals [J Parent and Enteral Nutr, 9(4): 428-34, 1985, July-