Did you know there is a molecule that can improve blood flow, boost muscle growth and recovery, and even help to fight off bacterial and viral infections? Meet Nitric oxide (NO), a tiny molecule that packs a big punch when regulating various bodily functions, including blood flow, muscle function, and immune response. Let's take a closer look at what nitric oxide is, what it's used for in the body, and how it's produced.
What is Nitric Oxide?
Nitric oxide (NO) is a molecule consisting of one nitrogen atom and one oxygen atom. It is a free radical, meaning it has an unpaired electron, making it highly reactive. Nitric oxide is produced by a variety of cells in the body, including endothelial cells (cells that line the blood vessels) and neurons in the brain.
In the body, Nitric oxide acts as a signaling molecule, meaning it helps communicate messages between cells. When released, it causes the blood vessels to dilate, which improves blood flow and oxygen delivery to the body's tissues. Increased blood flow can enhance athletic performance as more oxygen is delivered to the muscles during exercise.
What is Nitric Oxide Used For?
Overall, nitric oxide is essential in body regulation as it plays a crucial role in maintaining cardiovascular health, immune response, and brain function. The body uses nitric oxide to help regulate different functions, some of which include:
- Blood flow: Nitric oxide causes blood vessels to dilate, which improves blood flow and oxygen delivery to the body's tissues which is important for maintaining cardiovascular health.
- Circulatory system: Nitric oxide plays a crucial role in maintaining a healthy circulatory system. As a vasodilator, it dilates blood vessels and improves blood flow, which can help to lower blood pressure.
- Muscle function: Nitric oxide is involved in the contraction and relaxation of muscle fibers, which is necessary for movement. It can also aid muscle growth and recovery.
- Immune system: Nitric oxide is a signaling molecule that regulates inflammation, a critical aspect of the immune response. It can also help to protect against bacterial and viral infections.
- Brain function: Nitric oxide is also produced in the brain, where it acts as a neurotransmitter. It is involved in various processes, such as learning, memory, and pain sensation.
Additionally, nitric oxide directly impacts the health of the endothelial cells that line the blood vessels, helping to keep them functioning properly and preventing damage. This helps keep the circulatory system running smoothly and reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke risk.
Benefits of Healthy Nitric Levels
Research shows that healthy nitric oxide levels can advance athletic performance. This is because more efficient blood flow and oxygen delivery to the muscles enables faster recovery, reduces soreness, and decreases demand on your heart and skeletal muscles.
- Improved blood flow and oxygen delivery. Adequate blood flow and oxygen delivery to the muscles are essential for maintaining muscle function and endurance. When blood vessels are constricted, blood flow is reduced, leading to fatigue and decreased performance. By dilating blood vessels, nitric oxide enables better blood flow and oxygen delivery to the muscles, allowing for improved performance.
- Better blood pressure control. Nitric oxide plays a crucial role in controlling blood pressure by dilating blood vessels and reducing the resistance to blood flow. Increasing the diameter of blood vessels helps reduce the stress against the vessel walls, lowering blood pressure. High blood pressure can increase the risk of injury, particularly in the joints and muscles. By regulating blood pressure, athletes can reduce their risk of injury and improve recovery time.
- Reduced inflammation. Nitric oxide plays an integral role in regulating inflammation, a natural response to injury or infection, but chronic inflammation can contribute to a variety of diseases and disorders. Nitric oxide can regulate the activity of immune cells and release inflammatory mediators, helping protect the body from infections and diseases. And it helps to relieve pain and discomfort by reducing inflammation in affected areas.
- Increased energy level. Nitric oxide has been found to increase energy levels by increasing blood flow and oxygen delivery to the body's cells. Nitric oxide is also involved in the production of ATP, the primary energy currency of the body's cells. By increasing blood flow and oxygen delivery to the cells, NO helps improve the cells' efficiency in producing energy. Additionally, nitric oxide can help improve muscle function by aiding muscle growth and recovery, contributing to increased energy levels.
Studies show that the body's nitric oxide production lowers as we age, with chronic stress and insufficient sleep impacting this process. In addition, because nitric oxide is a short-lived molecule, it isn't a compound that can stay elevated in the body for long periods. Once it is produced, the body uses it—and it's gone. This is why we need to consider the importance of nitric oxide production as part of a daily health regimen that focuses on supporting blood health.
How Is Nitric Oxide Produced?
Nitric oxide is an unstable molecule that degrades quickly in the bloodstream, so it must be constantly replenished. There are two primary ways that nitric oxide can be produced: by either consuming certain vegetables or through an epigenetic process.
One of the best ways to maintain optimal nitric oxide levels in your body is by eating vegetables high in nitrates. Vegetables are versatile and can be easily incorporated into many different dishes, making it easy to consume them daily. They can be eaten raw, cooked, and in many forms, such as soups, salads, or smoothies. These include the following:
After eating vegetables high in nitrates, the nitrates are converted to nitrites by enzymes in the saliva and stomach. These nitrites can then be converted to nitric oxide by the enzymes in the blood vessels, which can have beneficial effects on blood flow, blood pressure, and overall cardiovascular health.
When over-consumed, nitrates can produce excessive nitric oxide, disrupting the body's natural balance. Overproduction can cause uncontrolled vasodilation, which could cause hypotension (low blood pressure). It can also lead to an imbalance in antioxidant levels—causing oxidative stress and inflammation—damaging cells and tissues.
Epigenetic processes are processes that trigger changes in the function or metabolic processes of a cell. Many environmental or behavioural triggers cause these changes. Molecules such as transcription factors or adaptogens are triggers for epigenetic cell responses. Epigenetic triggers cause genes within the cell to "express" or cause changes in cell metabolism without changing the underlying DNA sequence.
Think of it as an update to your laptop's software where its hardware does not change. In fact, research has shown that epigenetics plays a role in regulating gene expression in nitric oxide production. This includes the gene that codes for the enzyme eNOS (endothelial Nitric Oxide Synthase), which is responsible for producing NO.
Consuming pine bark extract—the key ingredient in PLASMAIDE—switches on an epigenetic effect that ramps up nitric oxide levels by producing an enzyme known as enolase (ENO). The body is limited in making ENOs, so consuming pine bark extract supplements helps the body increase ENO enzyme production beyond the levels diet can achieve. However, compared to consuming nitrates, epigenetic triggers for nitric oxide production do not lead to NO overproduction.
Did you know breathing through your nose can also produce nitric oxide? The nasal cavity contains specialized cells called olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) that produce nitric oxide synthase (NOS). This enzyme catalyzes the production of nitric oxide from the amino acid L-arginine. When we breathe through our nose, NO is produced by the ORNs and is released into the bloodstream.
Monitoring Your Nitric Oxide Levels?
Nitric oxide plays an important role in maintaining a healthy body. From regulating blood pressure to reducing inflammation and supporting the immune system, it's vital to have optimal levels of NO in the body. So it makes sense that people would want to monitor their nitric oxide levels.
There are even products on the market claiming to be able to monitor nitric oxide—whether it’s using blood tests, saliva tests, breath tests, or even urine tests—however, these tests are not widely used as diagnostic tools and may not even be entirely specific for nitric oxide. Take your time when learning about nitric oxide.
Nitric oxide levels can be affected by various factors such as diet, exercise, and stress, so you should consult your doctor and seek professional advice to understand your nitric oxide levels better. Whether a professional or an everyday athlete, athletes at every level can benefit from knowing more about nitric oxide to maximize their health and performance results.
Need help figuring out where to start? Try PLASMAIDE to boost your nitric oxide levels and elevate your active lifestyle to live a life in motion.
PubMed - Compounds: Nitric Oxide
PubMed - Nitric Oxide and Its Role in Exercise Physiology
EurekaAlert - New Study: Pine Bark Extract Boosts Nitric Oxide Production
LVI Global - Nitric Oxide & Mouth Breathing