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What is ornithine?

Ornithine is a non-essential, non-proteinogenic amino acid. It is produced during the body’s citric acid cycle from L-arginine. This amino acid has an important role in the urea cycle.

It is also key in the production of proline, glutamic acid and citrulline. These three amino acids help to supply the body’s cells with energy.

Health benefits

Body detoxification

Ornithine plays a central role in detoxification. It helps to eliminate ammonia from the liver. Excessive levels of this toxin can lead to serious liver damage and conditions such as hepatic encephalopathy and cirrhosis.

Many studies have shown that supplementation with this amino acid can help to reduce excess ammonia levels1, 2, 3.

Muscle growth

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L-ornithine together with L-arginine helps to stimulate the production of Human Growth Hormone (HGH), insulin and other growth-promoting hormones. This can help to build muscle mass.

Several studies have confirmed that ornithine and arginine supplementation can be beneficial for athletes participating in resistance training programs4, 5, 6. The body converts ornithine into arginine slowly.

Therefore people usually take both of these amino acids together in supplements. This may particularly help to support people involved in body building.

Wound healing

L-ornithine α-ketoglutarate is a specific form of this amino acid. Scientists have found that this type may be useful in healing wounds. This amino acid salt has been used intravenously to accelerate healing of burns7, 8, 9.

Additionally, L-ornithine α-ketoglutarate is often prescribed to help reduce the time patients spend in hospital for certain conditions.

These include patients recovering from generalised infections, burns, cancer, surgery and other physical trauma.

Stress relief and insomnia

There is growing evidence that this amino acid may help to relieve stress and improve sleep. Animal studies have found that it can reduce stress markers such as cortisol10.  More recent research has found that supplementation with l-ornithine can relieve stress and improve sleep quality in humans11.

Ornithine deficiency

Ornithine deficiencies are very uncommon. Normally the body is able to produce enough of this amino acid. However, during periods of illness, stress, and malaise, ornithine and arginine levels may decline. During these periods it is a good idea to increase your dietary intake of foods rich in these amino acids.

Dietary sources

Meat, fish, dairy products, nuts, soya, rice, and wheat are all good sources of ornithine.

Dietary supplements often contain this amino acid and ideally you should take this together with other key amino acids.

As with any supplement, it is important to check with a medical practitioner to determine suitability prior to taking the product.


Ornithine is a non-proteinogenic amino acid that is produced by the body. It is important for detoxification and indirectly supports muscle growth. This amino acid can also help with wound healing and combat stress and fatigue.  Many foods contain ornithine and you can also find it in supplement form. Deficiencies in this amino acid are very rare.


  1. Kircheis G, et al (1997). Therapeutic efficacy of L-ornithine-L-aspartate infusions in patients with cirrhosis and hepatic encephalopathy: results of a placebo-controlled, double-blind study . Hepatology. Volume 25, Issue 6, (pp. 1351-60)
  2. Ahmad I, et al (2008). L-ornithine-L-aspartate infusion efficacy in hepatic encephalopathy . J Coll Physicians Surg Pak. Volume 18, Issue 11. (pp. 684-7).
  3. Stauch S, et al (1998). Oral L-ornithine-L-aspartate therapy of chronic hepatic encephalopathy: results of a placebo-controlled double-blind study. J Hepatol. Volume 28, Issue 5, (pp. 856-64).
  4. Demura, et al. (2010). The effect of L-ornithine hydrochloride ingestion on human growth hormone secretion after strength training. Advances In Bioscience and Biotechnology. Volume 1, Issue 1, (pp.  7-11).
  5. Chromiak, J and Jose A. (2002). Use of amino acids as growth hormone-releasing agents by athletes. Nutrition. Volume 18, Issue 7, (pp. 657-61).
  6. Zajac, A. et al. (2010). Arginine and ornithine supplementation increases growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor-1 serum levels after heavy-resistance exercise in strength-trained athletes. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, Volume 24, Issue 4, (pp. 1082-90).
  7. Donati L, et al (1999). Nutritional and clinical efficacy of ornithine alpha-ketoglutarate in severe burn patients. Clin Nutr. Volume 18, Issue 5, (pp. 307-11).
  8. Le Bricon T, et al (1997). Ornithine alpha-ketoglutarate metabolism after enteral administration in burn patients: bolus compared with continuous infusion. Am J Clin Nutr. Volume 65, Issue 2, (512-8).
  9. Coudray-Lucas C, et al (2000). Ornithine alpha-ketoglutarate improves wound healing in severe burn patients: a prospective randomized double-blind trial versus isonitrogenous controls. Crit Care Med. Volume 28, Issue 6, (pp. 1772-6).
  10. Kurata K, et al (2012). Orally administered L-ornithine reduces restraint stress-induced activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in mice. Neuroscience Letters. Volume 506, (pp. 287–291).
  11. Miyake M, et al (2014). Randomised controlled trial of the effects of L-ornithine on stress markers and sleep quality in healthy workers. Nutrition Journal. 13:53. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-13-53.