The Miracle Molecule: Nitric Oxide Benefits & How to Get More
There’s a brilliant man named Dr. Louis Ignarro. He won the Nobel prize for discovering nitric oxide—a molecule capable of many incredible things and quite possibly the most important molecule for health that you’ve never heard of.
Ignarro refers to nitric oxide as “the miracle molecule of life” because of its ability to work as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, neurotransmitter, and vasodilator. It helps increase arousal in both men and women (seriously, discovering this is what led to Viagra), promotes memory and learning, and even regulates digestive enzymes and hormones.
In this article, we’re going to talk about the many nitric oxide benefits and how we can get more of it through the best nitric oxide foods and nitric oxide supplements.
What is Nitric Oxide?
Nitric oxide is a molecule that is naturally produced by your body and a key player in the many aspects of health. But due to lifestyle factors, some of us make more than others, so it’s important to get more of this molecule when you can.
Nitric oxide production is crucial for health because it allows blood, oxygen, and nutrients to travel through every part of our bodies. Its most important function being vasodilation, meaning it can relax the inner muscles of blood vessels, causing them to widen and increase circulation.
As a vasodilator, nitric oxide can prevent unwanted blood clotting, stroke, inflammation of the arteries, and heart disease. As we know, health goes where the blood goes. So nitric oxide allows for healthy arteries, erectile function in both men and women, and lower blood pressure.
It also acts as a neurotransmitter when released from the nerves and certain areas of the brain that promote memory, learning, and information recall. Some research even suggests that nitric oxide deficiency in the brain can cause Alzheimer’s.
Even more fascinating, our brains have 10x more nitric oxide than any other organ in the body. Researchers still don’t fully understand why this is, but you better believe it’s essential for brain health.
As an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, nitric oxide can also protect the skin from sun damage and skin cancer. It can also promote healthy digestion by helping the movement of enzymes and digestive juices.
Nitric oxide is a remarkable molecule that exists throughout the body and has many jobs. So how can we get more of it?
Foods for Nitric Oxide Production
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is the best way to maintain your nitric oxide production. But in a world where “healthy” seems to get rewritten constantly, what does a healthy diet actually mean?
For nitric oxide production, it means staying away from saturated fats and processed foods. And it means getting in as many colorful fruits and vegetables.
Colorful fruits and vegetables like dark leafy greens and berries are super high in antioxidants. Antioxidants destroy free radicals and boost nitric oxide.
Vegetables high in nitrate, the precursor for nitric oxide, like celery, lettuce, beetroot, spinach, arugula, and chervil, are great options for boosting nitric oxide naturally.
Several studies show that eating nitrate-rich vegetables can lower blood pressure as much as some blood pressure medications (1, 2, 3). Research also indicates that nitrates, especially from beetroot, improve exercise performance (4,5,6).
You may be a little confused right now thinking, “didn’t I just see a health influencer post about only eating nitrate-free bacon?” Yes, you probably did. And here’s the thing: nitrates from vegetables and fruits are different from nitrates found in processed meats.
But while we’re on the subject of meat, let’s talk about protein sources. The building block of nitric oxide is an amino acid called arginine. Since arginine is necessary for nitric oxide production, consuming foods rich in this amino acid like almonds, walnuts, and healthy sources of small fish, is a good idea!
Focusing on antioxidants like vitamin c, vitamin e, and glutathione can help reduce nitric oxide breakdown. You can get these antioxidants in through the foods mentioned above or some really good supplements.
Exercise and Nitric Oxide
Nitric oxide has positive effects on skeleton muscles and joint flexibility. And as we know, when we exercise, our heart rate and blood flow increase—and whenever this happens, more nitric oxide is produced.
As nitric oxide is produced when exercising, it increases blood flow which then carries nutrients and oxygen through the blood and flushes out lactic acid and other pain-producing metabolites.
This means boosting nitric oxide is another reason to get your daily movement in.
Breathing and Nitric Oxide
I know, I know, how can nitric oxide get any more fascinating?! Our nose makes nitric oxide, so when you inhale through the nose you’re getting some good nitric oxide in your lungs and helping to dilate the pulmonary arteries. That’s some deep oxygen exchange. We also know now that nitric oxide can kill bacteria, parasites, and even certain viruses, which all come through our noses!! That means do deep nasal breathing whenever possible.
But wait…did I just say it can kill certain viruses?
Yup. According to Dr. Ignarro, nitric oxide can kill the influenza virus and even SARS CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19! Currently, breathing in nitric oxide is a preventative method many hospitals are using for their employees.
Now that you have this great info on nitric oxide, how do you think you’ll be supporting your production? Supplements or powders? Exercise or breathing? Food? All of the above? Let me know in the comments below.