Nitric Oxide? What’s That?
Is it what they use in their cars in Fast and the Furious? Nope.
Is it the “laughing gas” they give you at the dentist? Sure isn’t.
Ok, so what is Nitric Oxide then?
Nitric Oxide is simply (NO). It is one molecule of nitrogen attached to one molecule of oxygen.
Nitric Oxide is produced naturally inside the body and it is critical for optimal health.
The chemical used by Vin Diesel, dentists, and in aerosol cans is Nitrous Oxide (N2O). The extra nitrogen molecule in Nitrous Oxide completely changes the gas.
Now that we have that cleared up, lets dive into the 5 reasons why nitric oxide is important!
1. Cardiovascular Health
In your head, picture a river.
The water in the river represents your blood, and the channel that it flows through represents your vein.
Well what happens if a tree falls into the river and debris starts accumulating in that spot?
The river flow will slow down, and the water won’t be able to nourish the plants that are downstream as well as it did before the blockage.
This is essentially what happens to our veins as we age, and this is where Nitric Oxide steps in.
Nitric oxide is a potent vasodilator, which means that it widens the blood vessels and therefore improves blood flow.
This vasodilation lowers blood pressure and heart rate(S). It is also responsible for the bulging veins you see in body builders and for the “pump” that all weight lifters know and love.
Just listen to what Arnold has to say about “the pump:”
Increased blood flow brings with it increased oxygen and nutrients to the cells that need it. Increased blood flow also means better waste removal(lactic acid, etc).
Therefore, more NO = increased blood flow = faster muscle growth and quicker recovery from exercise(S,S).
The discovery of how powerful NO is as a cardio-protective molecule actually led to these researchers receiving a Nobel Prize.
Evidence that Nitric Oxide is Cardio-Protective:
- Impairment of NO is shown to be an independent risk factor for major adverse cardiovascular events(S).
- “Atherosclerosis, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes mellitus, congestive heart failure, thrombosis and stroke have all been linked to abnormalities in NO signaling(S).”
- Low NO faciliates the process that causes arterial plaque and leads to the hardening of arteries(this is bad)(S).
In other words, Low NO = No Good.
2. Better Immunity
In this study they show that “plasma levels of nitrite and nitrates increased upon infection, suggesting an increase in endogenous production of NOs.” What this means is that NO levels increase in order to fight off infections.
It also goes on to say “NO generated by macrophages could kill leukemia cells.” Leukemia is a type of cancer by the way.
It’s pretty crazy that this molecule is able to both pump up your muscles and fight off infections.
Better blood flow, better immunity, ok what else?
3. Boosts Brain Function
Aside from the obvious boost that improved blood flow would mean for the brain; nitric oxide also acts as a neurotransmitter or more specifically, a gasotransmitter(S).
A) Mood Boost – NO appears to have a definite connection with neuronal serotonin levels, and as I’ve said before – serotonin is the happy chemical.
- This study shows the potential link between NO levels and serotonin levels.
- Here they discuss the potential of NO as a novel treatment for mood disorders. Hint: it also suggests a serotonin connection.
-So increased levels of nitric oxide can put you in a better mood? That’s a first…usually gas puts people in a bad mood. 😛
B) Enhances memory – Nitric oxide enhances memory because it is necessary for Long-term potentiation(LTP) in the hippocampus(S,S).
LTP is considered a vital process in learning and memory and without it we really wouldn’t know much.
NO facilitates this learning process.
C) Activates Neuronal Development – This is pretty cool. Nitric Oxide actually turns on the genes that promote neuron growth including dendritic growth and branching(S,S).
Dendrites are the root-like part of neurons that literally branch out and make connections with other neurons.
Longer dendrites are associated with easier learning, better recall, and higher computational power(S,S).
All of these benefits from such a simple molecule…
Better blood flow, better immunity, better brain function, ok what else?
4. Better Sleep
“It is widely accepted that nitric oxide facilitates sleep(S).”
NO is intimately involved in non-rapid eye movement sleep(NREM sleep) and sleep homeostasis(S).
In this study they show that inhibition of nitric oxide synthesis(one of the pathways that creates NO) suppresses spontaneous sleep.
In other words, no “NO” = no zZz’s
Increased levels of NO results in increased levels of cGMP. At night, levels of cGMP are higher which suggests an increase in NO.
It is through this relationship, that this study proposes NO and cGMP are involved in the circadian rhythm.
NO may also help with sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is associated with lower levels of nitric oxide(S,S).
Learn what sleep apnea is here and consider taking the Sleep Apnea Quiz.
- Nitric oxide makes blood vessels more elastic. On the other hand, sleep apnea makes your blood vessels less elastic because it causes lower nitric oxide levels. This implies that sleep apnea could be ameliorated by correcting a nitric oxide deficiency.
Snoring may also be a sign of sleep apnea: “Loud frequent snoring is one of the indicators of OSA(obstructive sleep apnea), which is a chronic condition characterized by pauses in breathing or shallow breaths during sleep(S).”
If you have sleep apnea you more than likely have low levels of nitric oxide and are at risk for further vascular diseases(S).
But as always, consult a doctor.
Better blood flow, better immunity, better brain function, better sleep, ok what else?
5. Better Sex 😮
Woop, Woop! There it is!
That’s right ladies and gentleman, increased nitric oxide levels results in better sexual function.
For men this means harder erections, since NO is directly responsible for flooding the corpus cavernosum with the blood that results in an erection. Nitric Oxide is also the foundation which drugs like Viagra work upon(S).
For women this means increased blood flow to the vagina which leads to clitoral engorgement, enhanced sensitivity, and increased lubrication(S).
I don’t think this needs any further explanation…NO is no joke.
Increased NO results in:
- Better blood flow
- Better immunity
- Better brain function
- Better sleep, and
- Better sex!
Hopefully now you understand why Nitric Oxide is important.
What are some factors that put you at risk for low nitric oxide?
- Smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, sedentary lifestyle, history of heart disease, poor diet, and sleep apnea are some common ones.
How do you test your Nitric Oxide levels?
- Berkely Nitric Oxide Test Strips of course.
Where can you go to learn more about the power of Nitric Oxide?
- The Nitric Oxide (NO) Solution. I haven’t read this book yet but it is on my list of books to read. There just isn’t enough time in a day!
How do I naturally boost my levels of Nitric Oxide?
- I teach you this in my article “7 Ways to Boost Nitric Oxide Naturally”
I hope you enjoyed this article! Let me know what you guys would like for me to post about next.
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Until next time,
Photo Credit: Renjith Krishnan 2, Cool Design, Dream Designs, Apolonia, and Imagerymajestic