What is nitric oxide and how does it work?
Did you know?
Nitric oxide is not the laughing gas used at a dentist office (nitrous oxide). Nitric oxide is a molecule that our body produces to help its 50 trillion cells communicate with each other by transmitting signals throughout the entire body.
Nitric oxide has been shown to be important in the following cellular activities:
- Help memory and behavior by transmitting information between nerve cells in the brain
- Assist the immune system at fighting off bacteria and defending against tumors
- Regulate blood pressure by dilating arteries
- Reduce inflammation
- Improve sleep quality
- Increase your recognition of sense (i.e. smell)
- Increase endurance and assist in gastric motility
Nitric oxide has gotten the most attention due to its cardiovascular benefits. Many heart patients use nitroglycerin. The interior surface (endothelium) of your arteries produce nitric oxide. When plaque builds up in your arteries, called atherosclerosis, you reduce your capacity to produce nitric oxide, which is why physicians prescribe nitroglycerin for heart and stroke patients. It acts by releasing nitric oxide which relaxes narrowed blood vessels, increasing oxygen and blood flow.
Nitric oxide is also very affective for erectile dysfunction, and for athletes and bodybuilders.
Athletes are now taking supplements with L-arginine and L-citrulline to support the flow of blood and oxygen to the skeletal muscle. They also use them to facilitate the removal of exercise-induced lactic acid build-up which reduces fatigue and recovery time.
With nitric oxide deficiencies due to aging, inactivity, smoking, high cholesterol, fatty diets, and lack of healthy foods, increasing your nitric oxide levels can help increase your energy, vitality and overall wellness. The basic adage of eating well and staying active all makes sense.
How to increase nitric oxide in your body
The most common way to increase nitric oxide is through exercise. When you exercise or lift weights, your muscles need more oxygen which is supplied by the blood. As the heart pumps with more pressure to supply the muscles with blood, the lining in your arteries releases nitric oxide into the blood, which relaxes and widens the vessel wall, allowing for more blood to pass though. As we age, our blood vessels and nitric oxide system become less efficient due to free radical damage, inactivity, and poor diet, causing our veins and arteries to deteriorate. Another way to increase nitric oxide is through diet, by consuming the amino acids L-arginine and L-citrulline. Arginine, which can be found in nuts, fruits, meats and dairy, and directly creates nitric oxide and citrulline inside the cell. Citrulline is then recycled back into arginine, making even more nitric oxide. Enzymes that convert arginine to citrulline, and citrulline to arginine need to function optimally for efficient nitric oxide production. We can protect those enzymes and nitric oxide by consuming healthy foods and antioxidants, like fruit, garlic, vitamins C and E, Co-Q10, and alpha lipoic acid, allowing you to produce more nitric oxide. Nitric oxide only lasts a few seconds in the body, so the more antioxidant protection we provide, the more stable it will be and the longer it will last
Because nitric oxide is synthesized from the amino acid arginine, dietary recommendations for boosting nitric oxide often include protein-rich meat and poultry. But recent research suggests that vegetables may be your best bet. Plant foods, particularly beets, celery, lettuce, parsley, kale, Swiss chard, arugula, cabbage and spinach, are rich in dietary nitrates and nitrites—compounds that stimulate the production of nitric oxide in the body. Coupled with its abundance of protective potassium, it’s not surprising that a plant-based diet is associated with lower blood pressure and reduced risk of stroke, heart attack, diabetes, and a variety of other health concerns.
Another way to up your intake of dietary nitrates is to drink beet juice. Studies have shown that two cups a day, which contain about six times the typical daily intake, can lower blood pressure, increase stamina during exercise, and, in older people, boost blood flow to the brain. Also recommended is consuming more green tea, onions, grapes, and other foods abundant in flavonoids, which preserve nitric oxide by shielding against free radical damage.
Gut health is very important to nitric oxide production. The good guys-the good bacteria in your gut convert the dietary nitrates/nitrates into the nitric oxide. Keeping your gut healthy is important for overall health, and very important for nitric oxide production.
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Always consult your healthcare professional before taking supplements to increase nitric oxide levels.