The history of nitric oxide is fascinating. Nitric oxide (NO) was used in making explosives before anything was known about its beneficial role in the body.
In fact, it was discovered by accident. In 1878, a physician by the name of Dr. William Murrell became famous after treating patients who had angina (chest pain/tightness) with nitroglycerin. Nitric oxide dilates (opens) narrowed arteries, improving circulation and delivering oxygen to the heart.
In 1992, nitric oxide was named “Molecule of the Year” by Science journal. In 1998, US scientists received the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine for discovering and explaining the nitric oxide pathways in the body.
I decided to write about nitric oxide and sponsor a workshop after learning so many amazing things about it during my Brimhall Wellness Certification seminar.
Nitric oxide is a key signaling molecule that’s involved in many physiological and pathological processes – playing a critical role in blood pressure, overall circulation, and energy output. It keeps arteries open and promotes vascular health by regulating the muscle tone of blood vessels which assists in controlling blood pressure and stopping platelet cells from grouping in clots to help prevent blockages in blood vessels.
Nitric oxide has been shown to be a mediator in inflammation and rheumatism, and helps the immune system fight viral, bacterial, and parasitic infections, as well as tumors. In the brain, nitric oxide helps transmit messages between nerve cells, helps protect against dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases, and has been associated with learning, memory, sleep, and depression. In sports and other physical activities, nitric oxide helps improve performance and duration in the muscles without needing increased oxygen. This is one of the reasons nitroglycerin is so effective in vascular and cardiac applications.
Because of its effects on circulation and blood flow, nitric oxide (and L-arginine) is associated with erectile dysfunction (ED). Increasing nitric oxide naturally makes so much more sense than taking a drug that’s designed to force reactions in the body. Healthy habits that increase nitric oxide in both sexes is always beneficial when it comes to intimacy.
There are two basic cellular pathways that generate nitric oxide in the body. The first is the L-arginine/nitric oxide synthase pathway which starts with the amino acid L-arginine, and relies on a group of enzymes known as nitric oxide synthases (NOS), along with co-factors oxygen and NADPH. L-arginine occurs in meat, seafood, eggs, nuts, seeds, dairy, and some plants. Arugula, spinach, and beetroot are the main plants containing L-arginine. Nitric oxide may also be synthesized from L-citrulline and L-ornithine. Watermelon and its rind is a source of L-citrulline. L-arginine and L-citrulline can be obtained from foods, but NADPH depends on ingested niacin (a B vitamin).
The second pathway is the nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide pathway. When dietary sources of nitrates and nitrites enter the gastrointestinal tract, they’re converted into nitric oxide through the action of bacteria in the mouth and the intestinal tract. In this pathway, nitrates (NO3) in the foods are converted into nitrite (NO2) and then into nitric oxide (NO). This is why it’s important to chew food well. To avoid shutting down this pathway, you must avoid mouthwash that kills oral bacteria. Once foods are converted into nitrites, the conversion into nitric oxide occurs in various parts of the body. In muscle tissue, including heart muscle, a protein called myoglobin converts nitrite into nitric oxide. In the blood, hemoglobin converts nitrite into nitric oxide, and endothelial cells in the veins convert nitrite into nitric oxide.
It’s now known that this nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide pathway kicks in when oxygen levels are low, such as when exercising – giving us yet another reason to exercise more heavily!
Unhealthy lifestyle factors lead to damaged endothelial cells in the blood vessel walls where nitric oxide is created. Environmental toxins, smoking, high sugar levels, excessive exercise, and drugs are some of the factors that cause damage. The underlying cause of heart disease (atherosclerosis) is characterized by endothelial dysfunction. Since nitric oxide is produced in the endothelial cells in the blood vessel walls, it’s a vicious cycle. Endothelial cells aren’t being repaired because nitric oxide production is impaired due to cells that have already been damaged. This is why it’s important to help the body produce more nitric oxide and eliminate damaging habits such as smoking.
The 2010 Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study showed that poor circulation and high blood pressure were the biggest risk factors for death (9.4 million deaths), followed by tobacco smoking (6.3 million deaths), alcohol (5 million deaths), and then factors related to physical inactivity and diet, particularly those with high levels of sodium and low levels of fruit/vegetable consumption (12.5 million deaths). This study pointed out that while people were living longer, they weren’t enjoying more years of health.
Another study (Food Science and Nutrition, 2014) showed that an extremely high antioxidant/phytonutrient blend of specific foods can increase nitric oxide levels. When I learned about the blend of fruit and vegetable based powder used in this study, realized its benefits, and then found that it even tasted great, I knew I needed it in my office for myself and my patients. Testing shows that this powder contains over 35 phytonutrient rich foods that contribute 20,000 (+) Total ORAC units per serving – and is made from raw and organic foods known for helping boost nitric oxide levels.
I hope you now have a better understanding of what nitric oxide is – and why it is your friend for life. It’s easier than you think to start eating healthier. At the workshop, we’ll talk about these foods, as well as whole food supplements to help those who may have trouble digesting the actual foods.
To learn more and unravel more of the technical jargon, join us for our workshop on April 27. Our workshops are always fun and informative – and there will be an opportunity for workshop participants to have nitric oxide levels tested!