Nitric oxide (NO) is a molecule consisting of one atom of nitrogen and one atom of oxygen. Most cells and tissues in the body produce it. Because of its important role in the body, scientists have been researching its potential benefits for many years. Well, should you say yes, or no to NO for your health?
Don’t confuse nitric oxide with nitrous oxide, which is a medical gas, also called laughing gas, that is used to decrease anxiety and promote relaxation during medical and dental procedures. They are two different gases. While nitrous oxide (NO2) contains one nitrogen molecule and two oxygen molecules, nitric oxide (NO) contains only one of each.
Unlike nitrous oxide, nitric oxide is produced in the body through an enzymatic reaction inside cells called endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS). This reaction occurs when the amino acid L-arginine is broken down into citrulline and nitric oxide. Nitric oxide relaxes blood vessels, increases circulation, and helps regulate many metabolic processes. It also plays a role in suppressing inflammation and fighting infection. In addition, it has been found to help improve exercise performance by increasing oxygen and nutrient delivery to muscles.
Low levels of nitric oxide in the body have been associated with various conditions such as erectile dysfunction, visual issues such as glaucoma and macular degeneration, and neurogenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and others. Symptoms such as fatigue, poor erections, memory loss, irritability, high blood pressure, insomnia, muscle aches, slow recovery post-exercise, decreased heart function, or asthma can occur with low NO levels.
There are several causes for low nitric oxide levels in the body, including dietary deficiencies, certain medications, high blood sugar levels or diabetes, and advanced age. Fortunately, there are ways to naturally increase nitric oxide production in your body. Eating foods rich in L-arginine (red meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, nuts, and spinach) can help boost nitric oxide levels. Beets are high in nitrates, and drinking beet juice can be a great way to quickly increase NO levels in your body. Regular exercise and adequate sleep are essential to maintain optimal nitric oxide production.
Long-term replenishment of NO may be a suitable approach to correct metabolic diseases such as hypertension and metabolic syndrome. There are also supplements that can help increase nitric oxide in the body. These include L-arginine and L-citrulline supplements as well as natural herbs like garlic and ginkgo biloba which contain compounds known to boost nitric oxide production. Finally, some research suggests that taking antioxidants such as vitamin C may also help increase nitric oxide levels in the body.
However, NO supplementation may be contraindicated in individuals with low blood pressure, liver disease, or a genetic condition Guanidinoacetate methyltransferase deficiency (GAMT). In addition, NO supplementation should be discontinued prior to surgery. NO supplements may also interfere with blood pressure or diabetic medications.
Whether you’re looking to improve your workout performance or just want to ensure your body is producing enough nitric oxide for overall health, consult your healthcare provider to see if implementing diet and lifestyle strategies is enough and whether you should say yes or no to NO supplements.
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I am a Master’s prepared RN, National Board-Certified Health & Wellness Coach, Board-Certified Functional Wellness Coach, and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner. I help people fix their chronic inflammation & pain with in-home lab testing, client assessments, personalized natural healing protocols, and online coaching to help them move from pain to peace so that they feel better, move better, and live better.