For sufferers, sickle crisis episodes are excruciating and exhausting. Keep reading to discover the amino acid scientifically proven to cut sickle crisis episodes in half.
You feel it coming again.
That sharp, stabbing pain. Like broken glass flowing through your veins. And knives sawing through your bones, repeatedly.
The pain is in your chest. You can’t move, nor can you breathe.
You know you should dial 999. But you can’t afford to be hospitalised.
Not this time.
You have numerous deadlines. You’re in no mood to argue with a doctor or a nurse. And you’re in no mood to be bruised and scarred by yet another nurse trying to fit a cannula. The transfusion scars you have are upsetting and make you self-conscious.
You’d rather weather this crisis at home. And luckily, this one starts at home. Not on the train, not on your way to an event. And not at work.
You go to the medicine cabinet, and it’s right there – the tramadol. You put two tablets in your mouth and drink a tonne of water. Then you lay in bed and wrap yourself tightly with your duvet.
You slow down and suffer the pain in silence to stop your family worrying. A few days later, you feel much better.
You dodged the hospital bullet this time. But you know you may not be so lucky next time.
Sickle crisis are excruciating and exhausting!
You know better than anyone else.
You know you can’t get rid of crisis episodes without a bone marrow transplant. But did you know you could suffer less crisis?
Diet. And let me guess, your doctor hasn’t discussed diet with you.
Scientists have recently begun researching how diet affects sickle cell pain. More research is needed, but current evidence shows that diet can reduce the number and severity of sickle cell pain.
We will uncover how diet affects sickle cell pain over a series of articles. For now, let’s explore…
The amino acid essential to curb sickle crisis
During your G.C.S.E’s, you may have learned about amino acids.
If not, here’s a crash course.
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. You need protein to build muscles, to grow and to repair cells and tissues.
Your body needs 22 amino acids to function. These amino acids are split into three groups – essential, non-essential and conditionally essential. Your body makes non-essential amino acids. But it can’t make essential amino acids – your diet supplies them. Your body can usually make conditionally-essential amino acids. But during stressful periods such as growth or illness, your diet needs to supply them.
Arginine is a conditionally-essential amino acid, meaning that a healthy person can normally make the amount they need. For you, however, this isn’t the case. You naturally have low levels of arginine. And during a crisis, your arginine levels diminish.
Why is this a problem?
You need arginine to make nitric oxide (NO), a gas that widens your blood vessels. The wider your blood vessels, the fewer chances your red blood cells have to stick to blood vessels and cause pain.
Recent research shows that when adult sickle cell patients have enough arginine, they produce more NO. High levels of NO improves blood circulation and reduces pain episodes. But arginine (500mg) reduces pain only after four months of daily use.
Arginine has other beneficial effects – it increases your antioxidant levels, and positively affects your red blood cells.
- It makes them sickle less.
- It makes them less dense (high density = more sickling).
- And it makes them more resistant to destruction.
Arginine is also beneficial for children hospitalised with sickle crisis. In a recent study, a daily arginine supplement reduced their pain intensity and opioid use by 54%.
If you’re rushing off to buy an arginine supplement, wait!
Food is the best source of arginine.
You can’t overdose or develop side effects. You’ll get beneficial vitamins, minerals and antioxidants unavailable in an arginine supplement. And most importantly, food is cheaper!
The Best Food Sources
White meat, particularly turkey and chicken, are the best sources of arginine. Per 100g, turkey provides 1700 mg of arginine while chicken provides 1930 mg – more than triple the amounts used in research studies. Both turkey and chicken are sources of immunity-boosting zinc, selenium and niacin.
Other good sources of arginine include:
- Beef, 1600 mg per 100 g
- Liver, 1590 mg per 100 g
- Lean pork provides 1510 mg per 100 g
- Eggs, 840 mg per 2 large eggs
Seafood, particularly oily fish, are terrific sources of arginine. They’re also rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats and immune-boosting vitamin D, vitamin B12, and selenium.
The following foods are great sources of arginine:
- Halibut provides 1520 mg per 100 g
- Salmon provides 1284 – 1530 mg per 100 g
- Mackerel provides 1376 mg per 100 g
- Prawns provide 1360 – 1882 mg per 100 g
- Herring provides 1304 mg per 100 g
- Sardines, 7 medium provide 1190 mg.
Nuts and seeds
Most nuts and seeds are good sources of arginine. Per 25g serving, they contain less arginine than meat or seafood. However, some are great sources of omega-3 fats, zinc, selenium and vitamin E.
The following nuts and seeds are the best sources of arginine:
- Hazelnuts, provide 877 mg per 25 g
- Walnuts, provide 562 mg per 25 g
- Brazil nuts, provide 562 mg per 25 g
- Pecans, provide 507 mg per 25 g
- Almonds, provide 498 mg per 25 g
Legumes include beans, peas and lentils. They are good sources of plant protein and iron.
The following legumes are good sources of arginine:
- Boiled soybeans, provide 620 mg per 124 g
- Lentils, provide 659 – 2100 mg per 100 g
- Chickpeas provide 708 – 1900 mg per 100 g
- Mung beans, provide 13200 mg per 100 g
It’s Time to Optimise your Diet and Suppress Sickle Crisis
So there you have it – evidence that arginine suppresses sickle crisis, increases your antioxidant status and improves the quality of your red blood cells.
You also now know the best dietary sources of arginine.
You may be eating these foods already. But if you’re not eating enough of them, and if your overall diet is trash, you won’t reap the benefits of arginine.
So bookmark this post.
And before you go grocery shopping, review this post and ensure these arginine-rich foods are on your list. Also, make a conscious effort to eat real, whole foods daily. And limit the amount of highly processed, nutrient-poor foods you eat.
Your nutritional status will improve, your health will improve, and the number of sickle crisis you experience will likely diminish.
- Morris, C.R. (2014) Alterations of the arginine metabolome in sickle cell disease: a growing rationale for arginine therapy. Haematology Oncology Clinics North America, 28(2), 301-21.
- Waugh, W.H. et al., (1999) Evidence that L-arginine is a key amino acid in sickle cell anaemia – a preliminary report. Nutrition Research 19(4), 501-518.
- Eleutério, R.M. et al., (2019) Double-blind clinical trial of arginine supplementation in the treatment of adult patient with sickle cell anaemia. Advances in Haematology, 4397150
- Morris, C.R. et al., (2013) A randomised, placeb0-controlled trial of arginine therapy for the treatment of children with sickle cell disease hospitalised with vaso-occlusive pain episodes. Haematologica, 98(9), 1375- 1382.
- Kehinde, M.O. et al., (2015) L-Arginine supplementation enhances antioxidant activity and erythrocyte integrity in sickle cell anaemia subjects. Pathophysiology 22, 137-142.
- Mirmiran, P. et al., (2016) The association of dietary L-Arginine intake and serum nitric oxide metabolites in adults: a population-based study. Nutrients, 8(5), 311.
- De Lorgeril, M. (1998) Dietary arginine and the prevention of cardiovascular diseases. Cardiovascular Research, 37, 560-563.
- Morris, S.M. (2006) Arginine: beyond protein. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 83(2), 508S-512S.
- Mack, K.A., and Kata, G.J (2006) Sickle cell disease and nitric oxide: A paradigm shift? International Journal of Biochemistry & Cell Biology, 38(8), 1237-1243.
- Little, J.A. et al., (2009) Haematologic, biochemical, and cardiopulmonary effects of L-arginine supplementation or phosphodiesterase 5 inhibition in patients with sickle cell disease who are on hydroxyurea therapy. European Journal of Haematology, 82(4), 315-321.
- Morris, C.R (2017) Arginine therapy shows promise for treatment of sickle cell disease clinical subphenotypes of hemolysis and arginine deficiency. Anesthesia & Analgesia, 12(4), 1369-1370.