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High blood pressure? Heart concerns? Erectile dysfunction? Poor circulation? You Need to Know About Nitric Oxide!
Beth Ley Knotts, Ph.D.
Nitric oxide (NO) 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 gotten the most attention due to its cardiovascular benefits. Alfred Nobel, the founder of the Nobel Prize, was prescribed nitroglycerin over 100 years ago by his doctor to help with his heart problems. He was skeptical, knowing nitroglycerin was used in dynamite, but this chemical helped with his heart condition. Little did he know nitroglycerin acts by releasing nitric oxide which relaxes narrowed blood vessels, increasing oxygen and blood flow. 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.

Let’s take a look at the multiple roles and benefits of nitric oxide and how you can increase its production to improve numerous aspects of your health.

Multiple Roles and Benefits of NO

Nitric oxide is a key signaling molecule throughout the body. Produced by the endothelial cells lining the arteries, it penetrates the underlying smooth muscles and acts as a potent vasodilator that relaxes the arteries. Therefore, nitric oxide plays a critical role in blood pressure and overall circulation. It also keeps the endothelium in shape by curbing inflammation and oxidative stress.

Unfortunately, atherosclerosis, the underlying cause of heart disease and other vascular disorders, is characterized by endothelial dysfunction and a limited capacity to produce nitric oxide. It’s a vicious cycle. Diseased arteries can’t generate enough protective nitric oxide, and low nitric oxide levels set the stage for further damage, hypertension, and increased risk of cardiac events.

This explains why nitroglycerin is such an effective therapy for angina. It triggers nitric oxide production, which dilates narrowed coronary arteries, improving circulation and delivering much-needed oxygen to the heart muscle. Restoring nitric oxide availability also lowers blood pressure and helps treat erectile dysfunction. In fact, the popular erectile dysfunction drugs Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra work on nitric oxide pathways to increase blood flow to the penis and substantially improve erections.

Additionally, this essential compound is generated in the brain, where it’s involved in neurotransmission. That’s why nitric oxide benefits also include protection against dementia and other neurodegenerative disorders. Nitric oxide is synthesized in the white blood cells as well and is used as a weapon against bacteria, fungi, parasites, and aberrant cancer cells.

In the gastrointestinal tract, it relaxes smooth muscle cells and helps regulate intestinal peristalsis and the secretion of mucus and gastric acid. Nitric oxide is also involved in insulin signaling, bone remodeling, respiratory function, ATP (energy) utilization, and mitochondrial biogenesis, or the creation of new cellular “energy factories.” Since there are so many benefits of nitric oxide, it makes sense for all of us to boost our production of this essential compound.

Benefits of increasing NO levels:
  • Promotes a Healthy Cardiovascular System
  • Enhances Healthy Circulation
  • Helps support athletic endurance
  • Helps improve recovery from athletic performance
  • Protects against dementia
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Improves sleep quality
  • Supports healthy digestion
  • Supports energy and vitality
  • Supports normal healthy immune system

Increase Nitric Oxide(NO) Levels With Lifestyle Changes

Because nitric oxide is synthesized from the amino acid arginine, dietary recommendations for boosting nitric oxide often include protein-rich meat, poultry and vegetables. Plant foods, particularly beets and leafy greens like kale, Swiss chard, arugula, 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 well known 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 2 cups a day, which contain about 6 times the typical daily intake, can lower blood pressure, increase stamina during exercise, and, in older people, boost blood flow to the brain.

Tea, onions, grapes, and other foods abundant in flavonoid antioxidants preserve nitric oxide by shielding against free radical damage. You should also be aware that high-fat, high-carb diets tend to increase blood levels of asymmetric dimethyl-arginine (ADMA), a naturally occurring inhibitor of nitric oxide production, reduce or eliminate fried or fatty foods and high-glycemic carbohydrates.

Lastly, don’t forget to engage in exercise most days of the week. Exercising muscles require extra oxygen and nutrients, and this prompts endothelial nitric oxide release, which relaxes the arteries and increases blood flow. Habitual physical activity keeps these mechanisms in shape and protects against disease and aging of the vascular system.

SUNSHINE! At least 20 minutes (without sunblock) in the sun is one of the best ways to increase NO levels. I have seen DRAMATIC improvements in NO levels and reduced blood pressure readings after 20 minutes of sunshine. Ultraviolet (UVA) light from tanning lamps has the same effect. However, all tanning beds do NOT have UVA light so one must do their research first and not assume their local tanning salon has these high quality beds. Research carried out at the Universities of Southampton and Edinburgh shows that sunlight alters levels of the small messenger molecule, nitric oxide (NO) in the skin and blood, reducing blood pressure. (See link below.)

Supplements That Enhance Nitric Oxide Synthesis

Antioxidants are important because they protect the endothelium and guard against nitric oxide degradation, so make sure you’re taking antioxidants daily (such as Curcumin/turmeric, Alpha lipoic acid, Astaxanthin, Resveratrol, Vitamin C, etc). There are also a few supplements that help enhance nitric oxide synthesis, thereby increasing its levels in the body. They include Pycnogenol® (a standardized extract of French maritime pine bark), Indian gooseberry (also known as amla), and L-arginine, which acts like a precursor and quercetin.

Vitamin D is a regulator of endothelial nitric oxide synthase. This may explain why sunshine is so helpful to raise NO levels. You may want to get your D levels checked to make sure your levels are high enough even if you are supplementing D-3. Test kits are available.

In Summary

Whether you’re concerned about heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), erectile dysfunction, or any of the other health concerns I mentioned, or you’re simply interested in preventing these and other challenges down the road, I encourage you to take steps to increase your nitric oxide levels and get on the road to optimal health.

NO saliva test kits are available to test your levels at home with instant results.

Here comes the sun to lower your blood pressure