L-ornithine is a non-essential amino acid, which means your body, when functioning properly, can make it all on its own. But the “non-essential” designation belies its nutritive importance and the potential boost it provides to energy levels, moods, strength, and endurance when we give our body a little extra ornithine, be it through diet or supplementation. Let’s explore ornithine benefits and side effects to help us determine what’s hype and what’s helpful.
L-ornithine for Waste Management
As an amino acid, ornithine functions as a building block for proteins, but that’s not all it does. One of its primary responsibilities is to help remove waste from the body.
Amino acids make up proteins in our muscles and other organs, and transform into biochemical compounds such as neurotransmitters and hormones. When these nitrogen-containing compounds break down—and they will—ammonia is produced. If not removed, this ammonia becomes toxic.
Here’s where ornithine shines. L-ornithine is a key player in the urea cycle (alternately named the ornithine cycle), a process by which liver cells convert ammonia into urea to be eliminated by the kidneys. Ornithine acts as a catalyst to accelerate ammonia conversion into urea for ultimate excretion through urine. If the body does not produce enough ornithine, then toxic metabolic waste can build up and cause potentially serious complications.
Because ornithine speeds us the excretion of ammonia, scientists believe it may help encourage proper liver function, prevent fatigue, and boost performance during prolonged exercise. Some research even suggests that ornithine may help increase levels of human growth hormone (HGH) in the body.
L-ornithine for Fatigue Management
L-ornithine helps manage fatigue by stabilizing energy levels and promoting better sleep.
Let’s examine the findings of a 2014 study published in Nutrition Journal. Fifty-two healthy men and women reported mild fatigue and low vigor due to stressful living conditions, such as working irregular schedules. The researchers separated participants into a control group—given a placebo pill once a day for eight weeks—and an ornithine group—given 400 mg of L-ornithine once a day for eight weeks.
Researchers measured levels of cortisol and DHEA-S, blood markers of stress, before, during, and after the eight-week study. In addition, participants filled out questionnaires that noted mood and sleep quality.
L-ornithine made a marked difference. Compared to the placebo group, participants on ornithine supplements were less angry and hostile, especially at weeks two and six, experienced better sleep, both falling asleep faster and sleeping longer and deeper, and had reduced cortisol levels from baseline.
L-ornithine for Strength and Endurance
L-ornithine’s potential benefits for strength and endurance stem from its symbiotic relationship with the anti-aging amino acid arginine. Your kidneys convert ornithine into arginine, which helps to produce nitric oxide. Nitric oxide dilates your blood vessels when you need to usher extra blood to your tissues. Arginine also stimulates the production of creatine, which is a compound that helps muscles contract. Consuming extra ornithine, and thereby triggering arginine production, is thought to help encourage strength and endurance. For these reasons, ornithine supplementation has become popular among people hoping to improve athletic performance.
What does science have to say? Preliminary studies shine a positive light on L-ornithine strength and endurance benefits. A study published in Nutrition Research, for example, showed that people who took ornithine were less fatigued from exercise than were people who took a placebo. The researchers concluded that ornithine helps the body use energy more efficiently and they recommend L-ornithine as a nutritional supplement to help combat fatigue.
Findings from a study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness showed that supplementing with ornithine and arginine while participating in a high-intensity strength-training program increased overall strength and lean body mass in an accelerated time frame. Amino acid supplementation also helped speed recovery from chronic stress by suppressing the deterioration of tissue.
Another study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research demonstrated that supplementing with arginine and L-ornithine increased levels of human growth hormone (HGH) and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) serum levels after strength-trained athletes engaged in heavy-resistance exercise.
Although more research is required, it would appear that supplementing with ornithine, especially when combined with arginine, may help improve strength and endurance, as well as raise HGH levels.
L-ornithine Side Effects
You can feed your body ornithine through dietary sources, such as meat, fish, dairy, eggs, peanuts, and soybeans, but many people may wish to use L-ornithine supplements to increase stamina and strength. Health supplements typically use a form of ornithine called L-ornithine HCL, which is the hydrochloride salt of L-ornithine.
L-ornithine supplements for strength and endurance are generally considered safe and side effect free for adults when taken at doses between 2 and 6 grams a day. Doses more than 10 grams a day have been shown to cause intestinal distress and diarrhea in sensitive users. As always, please supplement only under the care and guidance of a licensed health practitioner.