By Kaley Burns EBS COLUMNIST
Nitric oxide (NO) is widely known as a molecule in the cardiovascular system that helps to regulate circulation and blood vessel dilation. But it provides benefits beyond the cardiovascular system into immune health and even gastrointestinal health.
You cannot take nitric oxide pills, but you can take supplements that contain ingredients that boost the body’s production of NO. You’ve likely seen the super green drinks blended with many NO-promoting foods such as arugula, beets, kale, spinach, broccoli, celery, pomegranate and chard. Exercise is another natural way to increase levels in the body.
Nitric oxide decreases with the aging process and insufficient levels have been associated with hypertension, diabetes, erectile dysfunction, glaucoma, Alzheimer’s disease, inflammation and poor wound healing.
Supplements supporting NO production may contain substances like the amino acid L-arginine. Your body can then convert L-arginine into NO, which widens blood vessels and improves blood flow. One systematic review showed that L-arginine significantly increased NO levels and blood flow in people with heart disease. In addition to positive effects on blood pressure, nitric oxide also can improve endothelial function—dysfunction is known to contribute to the development of atherosclerosis, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Supports brain health
NO is also important for brain health. It has been shown to be an important messenger in various systems, but it’s particularly important to the central nervous system, where it aids in cell communication in the brain. Research reveals how nitric oxide can change the “computational ability” of the brain, which points toward its ability to help neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.
Better athletic performance
NO contributes directly to blood flow, oxygen delivery, glucose uptake, muscle velocity, power output, and muscle growth, and can therefore enhance an athlete’s overall performance and endurance. A number of studies have shown that boosting NO can improve the function of energy-producing mitochondria, resulting in easier breathing during exercise in addition to reduced muscle soreness and faster recovery.
Adaptation to altitude
People who live at high altitudes require more NO than people at sea level. If you recreate at a high altitude, it would be wise to consider upping your nitric oxide production. Studies have shown that the consumption of dietary nitrates (ie. spinach or red beets) or NO supplementation can improve the body’s adaptation to altitude by keeping NO levels from declining.
When you eat beets, NO levels naturally increase in the body. Beets have been shown to be such an impressive NO booster that they are also available in supplement form as a juice, powder or capsule. While research is ongoing, studies have shown that dietary nitrate supplementation appears to represent a promising approach for enhancing aspects of health.
*Disclaimer: Supplement use should be individualized and vetted by a healthcare professional. No supplement is intended to treat or cure disease.
Dr. Kaley Burns is a licensed Naturopathic Physician providing a wide range of services for her clients, including: Naturopathic Medicine, IV Nutrient Therapy, Regenerative Injections, Rejuvenation Therapies, Vitamin Shots, and Nutrition Counseling. She embraces a natural approach to health and aims to similarly inspire and guide others on their health journey.