What Is Nitric Oxide? Nitric Oxide Uses and Benefits
Nitric oxide is a compound in the body known as a vasodilator, meaning it dilates blood vessels, signaling them to relax and expand. This compound is made naturally by the body from the conversion of certain compounds found in foods. In this article, we will discuss nitric oxide and its health benefits.
What is Nitric Oxide?
Nitric oxide is a compound that is naturally produced by the body. Nearly every type of cell produces nitric oxide. (1) It is incredibly beneficial for blood vessel health as nitric oxide signals the blood vessels to relax, allowing them to expand.
While nitric oxide is converted in the body from nitrates, some people also take supplements that increase nitric oxide production. These supplements are typically taken for heart and circulatory health or to boost athletic performance. Nitric oxide supplements do not actually contain nitric oxide in them. Instead, they contain compounds that increase the production of nitric oxide.
What Is Nitric Oxide Used for?
There are many uses for nitric oxide supplements. Since nitric oxide helps to increase blood flow, nitric oxide supplements are commonly used for any condition that may benefit from increased circulation. Among the most common uses for nitric oxide are for athletic performance, blood pressure, and erectile dysfunction.
What Is Nitric Oxide Used for In the Body?
The body uses nitric oxide gas to relax the smooth muscles of the body to widen blood vessels. It acts as a neurotransmitter or signaling molecule between nerve cells and plays a significant role in the cardiovascular and circulatory systems of the body. (1)
What Are the Benefits of Nitric Oxide?
There are many benefits of nitric oxide. Some of the top nitric oxide benefits include:
1. Nitric Oxide May Enhance Athletic Performance
One of nitric oxide’s most common uses is for boosting athletic performance. Studies on the effects of nitric oxide have found that it may increase exercise tolerance, helping to increase endurance. (2) Furthermore, nitric oxide is a known vasodilator, meaning it helps to relax blood vessels and improve blood flow. This increased circulation to all of the muscles of the body may also help to boost energy and athletic performance.
Nitric oxide synthesis occurs primarily through two physiological pathways. These are known as nitric oxide synthase (NOS) dependent and NOS independent. The primary precursor for NOS dependent nitric oxide synthase is the amino acid L-arginine. Many nitric oxide supplements contain l-arginine, and by supplementing with l-arginine, you may increase nitric oxide levels in your body. (2)
Nitrate and nitrite are the primary substrates that produce nitric oxide through the NOS independent pathway. These are found in certain foods like beetroots, leafy greens, celery, turnips, and radishes. Consuming more of these foods may also help to boost nitric oxide levels. (3)
2. Nitric Oxide May Help Treat Erectile Dysfunction
Your muscles aren’t the only parts of your body that benefit from increased blood flow. The positive effects of nitric oxide on the cardiovascular system may also help to alleviate erectile dysfunction. The penis actually requires nitric oxide to relax. When penile muscles relax, chambers become filled with blood, resulting in an erection. Nitric oxide may help increase blood flow to the penis, thereby helping to alleviate erectile dysfunction. Nitric oxide is also very safe, with a very low risk of side effects. (4)
3. Nitric Oxide May Lower Blood Pressure
Another significant benefit of nitric oxide is that it may help to lower blood pressure. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is a major risk factor for heart disease—the leading cause of death in the United States. (5) High blood pressure is also called “the silent killer” as it does not tend to show any symptoms or warning signs, though, over time, it may lead to a heart attack, stroke, or kidney disease.
High blood pressure is caused by a constriction of blood vessels, the arteries or channels through which blood flows. When the walls of these arteries constrict, it makes it harder for blood to move through them, creating an increase in blood pressure. Since nitric oxide is a known vasodilator, it helps to relax blood vessels allowing for increased blood flow, naturally lowering blood pressure. (6) This is excellent news for people suffering from hypertension, and is why nitric oxide supplements and nitric oxide-rich foods are commonly consumed by people concerned about their heart health.
4. Nitric Oxide May Reduce Muscle Soreness
Another reason that athletes so commonly use nitric oxide is that it can also help to reduce muscle fatigue and soreness after a workout. When more blood flows to our muscles, it also helps our muscles to recover quicker. Studies on nitric oxide have found that nitric oxide supplementation may delay the onset of muscle soreness by as much as 40 percent. (7)
5. Nitric Oxide May Support Skin Health
A less common use for nitric oxide supplements is for improving skin health. Nitric oxide appears to be particularly beneficial for inflammatory skin disorders like inflammatory acne. Not only can nitric oxide help to lower inflammation, it may also help to kill Propionibacterium acnes, the bacteria that causes acne. (8)
How Do You Increase Nitric Oxide Naturally?
The best way to increase nitric oxide levels naturally is by eating more foods that can help to increase nitric oxide or by supplementing with certain nitric oxide supplements.
What Foods Help to Boost Nitric Oxide?
The foods that help boost nitric oxide production contain high amounts of the amino acid l-arginine or high amounts of nitrates. These include:
- Leafy greens
- Pumpkin seeds
- Brown rice
- Red meat
Are There Side Effects to Nitric Oxide?
Nitric oxide is a natural compound produced by the body. Supplements that increase nitric oxide production are also considered to be very safe, though this depends on the supplement's quality and the ingredients used. Though side effects are rare, some of the reported side effects of nitric oxide supplements include:
- Reduced heartbeat
- Decreased cardiac output
- Blue lips or skin
Another thing to remember is that while nitric oxide has many potential benefits, nitric oxide gas is also a free radical. Free radicals are molecules with an uneven number of electrons. This uneven number causes them to react unstably, potentially causing oxidative stress. While oxidation is a natural process in the body, high levels of oxidative stress can cause oxidative damage to cells.
For this reason, antioxidants are of great benefit. We are exposed to tens of thousands of free radicals each day. Antioxidants in foods can donate an electron to free radical molecules without becoming unstable. This neutralizes the free radicals and prevents oxidative damage. (9)
So, while it is essential always to consume antioxidant-rich foods for their many health benefits, it may be worth focusing on consuming more antioxidants in your diet if you are supplementing with a nitric oxide supplement.
Nitric oxide gas (NO) is a compound that is naturally produced in the body. The body uses nitric oxide gas to relax the smooth muscles of the body to widen blood vessels. In addition, it acts as a neurotransmitter or signaling molecule between nerve cells in our body and plays a significant role in the cardiovascular and circulatory system.
Nitric oxide synthesis occurs primarily through two physiological pathways. These are known as nitric oxide synthase (NOS) dependent, and NOS independent. NOS dependent synthesis primarily occurs from the precursor amino acid l-arginine, whereas NOS independent synthesis typically occurs from nitrate or nitrite, compounds found in certain foods.
To increase nitric oxide production, you can consume more foods that contain l-arginine, nitrate, or nitrite, or you may use a nitric oxide supplement. Some of the top benefits of nitric oxide include:
- Improving athletic performance
- Helping to alleviate erectile dysfunction (ED)
- Lowering blood pressure
- Reducing muscle soreness
- Supporting skin health
If you are considering supplementing with nitric oxide, it is recommended to consult with your doctor to see if it is a good supplement for you.