Last Updated December 20th, 2021
Tapping into the Good Side of Nitric oxide
It’s only recently that Nitric oxide aka Nitrogen monoxide and its role as a vital compound in our body has been discovered and recognized. For the longest period of time, it was considered to be only a toxic gas, which is dangerous since it is colorless and odorless and difficult to detect. Historically, there is evidence that a lot of chemists have died by ingesting huge quantities of NO without even being aware of it. Even today it is an industrial waste and is also released by automobiles, which is harmful to human life but inside our body, it’s a miracle maker.
It was as recently as in 1992 that scientists discovered the existence of this toxic gas in our body at the cellular level. The same year the American Association for the Advancement of Science announced Nitric oxide as ‘Molecule of the Year’. Four years later in 1998, three scientists were awarded Nobel Prize for discovering that NO is an essential compound in the smooth functioning of several processes in our body including maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system and blood pressure.
Ever since this discovery Nitric Oxide in our body has been studied and researched by a lot of scientists to tap into the good side of Nitric oxide but the one place where it is already popular is in the field of fitness and sports. Nitric oxide is taken by a lot of physical trainees and sportspersons in form of supplements. It is commonly believed that NO supplements boost physical performance and helps in building a good physique. To understand how these supplements help the human body it’s essential to understand how Nitric oxide works in quantities that it is naturally produced in our bodies.
What does Nitric oxide do in our body?
Nitric oxide is released at multiple locations in the body by the inner layers of our cells. It regulates a lot of critical biological functions in our body from neurological, cardiovascular to immune systems.
• NO as a neurotransmitter: Nitric oxide helps in the release of several neurotransmitters in our brain, sending out signals and messages across different parts of the body. It gets released in our brain in small quantities, which creates a kind of a spark in the neighboring cells and is received by a special kind of protein that carries information from the brain to the other parts. In simple terms, it helps the nervous system to maintain overall control on the body.
• NO helps Respiratory System: Nitric oxide primarily works at two levels in the bronchial system. First, it makes sure that there is no blockage in the bronchial system by acting as a bronchodilator. It also regulates mucus secretion which plays an important role in the way we breathe. It relaxes the muscles in our airway making it easier for us to breath.
Second, Nitric oxide has anti-inflammatory characteristics. In case of any inflammation in the lungs or any other part of our respiratory system, it is produced in more than usual amounts. The excessive amount of NO in the exhaled air is also a method of detection of inflammation.
• Strengthens the Immune System: NO in our body is produced in three different structures at the molecular level. Two of these structures are associated with the release of calcium in our body in large quantities. Usually, such a release of calcium is in turn related to a healing process. The flux of calcium in our body releases two kinds of NO which are harmful to a lot of microorganisms and pathogens. The presence of such NO increases the capability of our immune system to fight against attacks by microbes.
• Keeps the Cardiovascular System smooth: Last but not least, the most important function of Nitric oxide is to literally keep the blood flowing in our veins. It basically works as a vasodilator which makes sure there is no blockage in the veins. It melts out any plaque formation in our arteries and veins keeping them flexible and agile. It also makes sure that there is no coagulation of platelets. It relaxes the veins and arteries so that the flow of blood is easier. Nitric oxide disintegrates any clots in the bloodstream preventing it from reaching any respiratory or cardiovascular organs.
Nitric Oxide Supplements: A Sportsman’s favorite
The implications of the above functions are more evident when applied to a more wholesome level. As an inference to all that Nitric oxide does in our body, we can say that it pretty much makes sure that our body and mind work properly. Its capability to improve vasodilatation and increase blood pressure makes it a favorite of people active in fitness and sports.
Nitric oxide supplements don’t directly infuse Nitric oxide upon ingestion, however, they contain compounds that can become the impetus to excess production of NO in the body, which might result in elevated endurance to physical activities and be a possible catalyst in building the skeletal muscles. These supplements come with amino acids like L-arginine and L-citrulline that helps in the production of Nitric oxide.
This popular belief could be a result of some biological findings. It has been proved that the most natural way of increasing the production of NO in the body is to exercise. Excess oxygen is required for laborious activities, which is carried to different parts of our body with blood. The heart pumps more blood increasing the blood pressure which in turn produces Nitric oxide.
Some studies show that Nitric oxide supplements also help in reducing the levels of lactic acid in the muscles, which can help with the fatigue and shorten the recovery time. Ask any new bee hitting the gym for the first time- the first three or four days of work-out can cause tremendous body and muscle pain which is due to the accumulation of lactic acid. That is why a lot of physical trainers advise on pre-workout NO supplements which are available in form of pills. These pills come with different compounds that may help induce the increased production of Nitric oxide in the body.
Other benefits of Nitric oxide supplements
- Erectile dysfunction: Men with the problem of erectile dysfunction are advised to consume NO supplements to rectify their problem. The logic behind it is simple. Nitric oxide works as a vasodilator ensuring improved and smooth flow of blood in the veins and arteries of the body. Erectile dysfunction is mainly caused due to lack of blood flow or appropriate blood pressure to the penis. With age, our veins can get a plaque formation on the inner walls which can hinder the blood flow to certain essential parts of our body. Consumption of NO supplements can help improve the blood flow hence it corrects this disorder.
- Attack on tumors and Cancer: The dangerous nature of Nitric oxide is already proven. Not only in the original form but in the different structural forms (isotopes) that it exists in our body. Due to this nature of NO it is believed by some experts that NO has the potential to kills tumors and cancer cells within the body with the hazards of operation. Though a lot more needs to be known about what kind of dosage will be effective it is believed by researchers and scientist that the effectiveness of NO on cancer cells and tumors depends on the time and location of release of the compound in our body.
- Helps in maintaining blood-pressure: Patients with high blood pressure due to Thrombosis or Type 2 Diabetes (which can result in kidney diseases or heart diseases over time) are suggested to have NO supplements because it helps in regularizing the flow of blood. It widens the veins and removes roadblocks for the free flow of blood.
- Potentially helps prevent Alzheimer’s: This nightmare of old-age is generally caused due to lack of blood flow to the cognitive parts of our brain which cause tissue damage and as a resulting loss of memory. The fact that this disease is a degenerative one is testimony enough of the fact that if kept in check, it probably can be avoided. NO supplements can keep the veins working smoothly, which possibly can reduce the chances of Alzheimer’s.
Other diseases caused due to NO deficiency
- Parkinson’s Disease
NO from nature’s basket
Though these NO supplements are quite popular and are readily available, nature gives us a lot of options to keep the Nitric oxide levels checked in our body. Different natural ingredients contain various compounds that help produce NO in our system.
• Leafy veggies: It’s not just our mothers who suggest we eat our greens but studies show that green leafy vegetables and more notable Beetroot are high on nitrate content which is broken down in our body to produce Nitric oxide. Rather beetroot extracts are used in a lot of NO supplements as well which are available in the market. Endive, leek, parsley, Chinese cabbage, fennel, and broccoli are a few good examples of vegetables which are rich in nitrates.
• Red wine and Chocolates: Well not all tasty foods are bad for health. Because of the fruit content in these prepared food items, along with polyphenols, they have compounds that can help in the production of NO.
• Protein-rich foods: Amino acids like arginine and citrulline which are the building blocks of protein are used at the cellular level to produce Nitric oxide. So any protein rich food like meat, beans, seafood, nuts or dairy products can help in increasing the level of NO in our blood.
Side – Effects of excessive use of Nitric Oxide
Even though there are no listed side-effects of Nitric oxide itself, the compounds that are taken to increase the release of NO in the body could have some unwanted effects. The NO supplements market is not a regulated one so it is usually advised that a dietician or a trainer is consulted before using them.
• Nitrates and nitrite compounds which are present in the supplements or natural ingredients might cause some headaches and migraine.
• Excessive NO might cause dizziness and lightheadedness in people who already suffer from low blood-pressure
• Incorrect dosage of NO can cause diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
• Excessive bleeding can be a result of excessive NO in the system since is it a vasodilator.
Nitric oxide: What should you know
Though for a very long time Nitrogen oxide or Nitric oxide was a misunderstood compound, there is no doubt about how important Nitric oxide is for the proper functioning of our body. Some people even mistook it as the laughing gas. Right from the neurotransmitters in our brain, smooth functioning of our heart increased stamina and strength on the inside of our body to the outer appearance of a fit and shapely person; it is a multifunctional compound.
Especially in today’s day and age when there is a lot of awareness around fitness and health Nitric oxide supplements can be a handy tool in ensuring that this essential component is present in our body in the right quantity. NO supplements can help us in overcoming the deficit of Nitric oxide that might be there in our daily diet.
As mentioned above a word of caution is a must when it comes to using these supplements. Nothing in excess is good for health especially with such a compound which is considered both a bane and a boon for human life.
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