Nitric oxide is an essential molecule produced in the body with various important functions. It is a powerful vasodilator, meaning that it helps your blood vessels to relax and dilate. This can be beneficial for blood pressure and circulation as it allows easy blood flow from the heart to the rest of the body. Nitric oxide also plays a role in immunity and inflammation. There are foods rich in nitric oxide that, besides what the body can produce, can boost your nitric oxide levels and thus enhance its benefits in your body.

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This article takes a closer look at this essential compound, including its detailed health benefits, the foods you can eat, and whether you should consider supplements.

What is Nitric Oxide?

Also known as nitrogen Monoxide, nitric oxide (NO) is a colorless gas naturally produced in the body. It’s a lesser-known compound but very essential for various physiological and pathological processes.

Technically, nitric oxide is considered a free radical, but unlike other free radicles that damage cells, it can be very beneficial, especially for blood vessel health and for the production of certain hormones like insulin.

The body uses component parts of various nutrients such as nitrates, vitamin C, L-citrulline, and L-arginine to produce this compound. Without enough of these parts, your body will be deficient.

The best way to boost your levels is by increasing your dietary sources of these foods.

While you can also acquire it as a supplement, getting it from food is the most effective and recommended method. This is especially because supplements may often result in n side effects while food sources can provide additional nutrients that the body needs to maintain optimal health.

Health Benefits of Nitric Oxide

1. Nitric oxide can reduce muscle soreness.

Muscle soreness, especially after a vigorous activity or a new exercise, occurs when your muscles are exposed to unaccustomed stress. 

This can result in microscopic tears within your muscle fibers, which causes the pain you’ll usually feel after a day or two after the exercise.

Although it’s a normal physiological process, muscle soreness can make it difficult to engage in another physical activity sooner, which can impact your routine and outcome.

In order for your muscles to repair and grow back stronger, they need oxygen and nutrients. Nitric oxide helps deliver these essential nutrients to your muscles, which fight inflammation, reduce soreness, and speeds up recovery.

2. Nitric oxide can boost exercise performance

Research shows that nitric oxide can improve athletic performance, increase endurance, and promote recovery. This is because nitric oxide can widen your blood vessels which increases oxygen and nutrient delivery to the muscles. As a result, your muscles will have more energy throughout the session.

Moreover, better blood flow translates to lower blood pressure, which causes decreased demand o your heart and skeletal muscles.

3. Nitric oxide can mprove brain health

NO is often considered an unconventional neurotransmitter. The fact that it dilates blood vessels means it can increase blood flow to the brain, which can induce various neural activities. This has been shown to boost stress and lessen anxiety and depressive symptoms.

It has also been shown to promote learning and memory of whatever is learned.

4. Nitric oxide can strengthen the immune system

There are several ways in which nitric oxide can strengthen your immune system.

For one, NO can improve circulation, which ensures increased oxygen and nutrient delivery to the cells, thus enhancing their functions.

Also, NO can fight inflammation, which is the root cause of most conditions. It can weaken your immune system and make it more susceptible to infections. By fighting inflammation, NO can help improve existing conditions and prevent new ones.

Additionally, nitric oxide can help kill viruses and bacteria by inhibiting key molecules that these pathogens need for survival.

 5. Nitric oxide lowers the likelihood of blood clot formation

Research shows that NO can regulate platelet aggregation and prevent platelet adhesion to the endothelium, which prevents blood clots from forming. 

Also, NO can inhibit further platelet recruitment to an existing thrombus, thus preventing it from growing.

The improved blood flow associated with NO can also prevent stasis or blood pooling, which can also result in blood clot formation.

6. Nitric oxide can help manage type 2 diabetes

According to the American Diabetic Association, insulin resistance, a common factor in type 2 diabetes, is strongly associated with decreased levels or bioavailability of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide can improve insulin sensitivity and improve its uptake into the cells.

In addition, nitric oxide helps keep blood vessels dilated, which allows for better blood flow and glucose uptake by cells. It also helps reduce inflammation, which can be a major contributor to type 2 diabetes.

7. Nitric oxide can treat erectile dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction is a common problem that affects men of all ages. It can be caused by physical problems, such as a poor blood supply to the penis, or by psychological issues, such as anxiety or depression. Nitric oxide can help to treat erectile dysfunction by increasing blood flow to the penis, which can improve erections.

Foods Rich in Nitric Oxide

1. Beets

Beets on grey background

Beetroots are very high in nitrates which your digestive system converts into nitric oxide. In one study, researchers wanted to determine the relationship between the effects of beetroot juice on body mass in both men and women. At the end of the study, the juice was shown to increase nitric oxide in both groups regardless of their weight.

Another study found that drinking beetroot juice increased nitric oxide by 21 percent after just 21 minutes of consumption.

To increase your nitrate levels with beetroot, it’s recommended that you drink 2 cups of beetroot juice per day. This amount is also considered sufficient to boost cardiovascular benefits. That being said, start with a low dose of one cup daily, then work your way up.

You can also include your beets in different recipes like salads, soups, stews, cocktails, etc.

Besides boosting your nitric oxide levels, beetroots are packed with antioxidant betalain, fiber, folate, manganese, vitamin A, potassium, iron, and vitamin C. With these, beets can promote healthy eyes, reduce congenital disabilities in pregnant mothers, aid in the purification of blood and the liver, cleanse the colon, and boost immunity

2. Leafy greens

leafy greens Swiss chard

Leafy green vegetables such as kale, spinach, collard, and swiss chard are commonly known to provide various vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, but did you know they are also a good source of NO? That’s right!

Leafy greens are an excellent source of nitric oxide because they contain high levels of nitrates. Nitrates are converted into nitrites in the body, which are then converted into nitric oxide. Leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and Swiss chard are particularly rich in nitrates.

Including leafy greens in your diet is a great way to increase your intake of nitric oxide. This can help improve blood flow, lower blood pressure, and offer other health benefits.

One study found that high levels of spinach-derived nitrates in healthy men and women with arterial stiffness resulted in reduced systolic blood pressure and artery compliance. Scientists in this study believe if these results are maintained, one can tremendously improve their cardiovascular health and well-being.

3. Garlic

garlic bulb on black background

Garlic has long been known to have medicinal properties, and modern science has begun to unlock the mechanisms by which garlic exerts its effects on the body. One of these is its ability to boost nitric oxide levels.

Nitric oxide synthase (NOS) is the enzyme that converts L-arginine into nitric oxide. Garlic has been shown to increase the activity of NOS, leading to increased production of nitric oxide.

One study found that aged garlic extract could temporarily increase NO levels by 30-40 percent after an hour of consumption. This means that continued use of garlic could help keep your levels high.

4. Pomegranate

Fresh pomegranate fruit on tree

In one animal study, researchers found that both pomegranate fruit extract and pomegranate juice equally increased the levels of nitric oxide synthase, which then increased NO levels in the body.

Another study found that the antioxidants in pomegranate juice could help prevent oxidative damage to nitric oxide, thus promoting its function.

5. Citrus fruits

Citrus fruits

Citrus fruits are a great source of Vitamin C, which can also increase nitric oxide in the body. 

It helps increase the bioavailability of nitric oxide, making it more easily absorbed by the body. 

Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant that can help to protect cells from damage and improve their function.

So by increasing your intake of Vitamin C-rich foods, you can help boost your nitric oxide levels and improve your overall health.

6. Nuts

fresh nuts with dried fruits

Nuts such as walnuts, hazelnuts, pecan, almonds, cashews, and brazil nuts are a great source of arginine, an amino acid that plays a role in the production of nitric oxide. In fact, a study found that arginine-rich foods could increase nitric oxide levels by as little as within 2 weeks of intake.

This means that eating nuts can help to improve blood flow and circulation. In addition, arginine can help promote wound healing, improve male fertility, and reduce symptoms of chest pain.

Nuts are also a good source of healthy fats, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Nonetheless, you should keep your intake moderate as some nuts could be high in calories.

7. Seeds

Chia seeds on grey background

Like nuts, seeds also contain arginine, which can boost your nitric oxide levels, as seen above.

Pumpkin seeds are one of the best out there, but you can also obtain nutrients from other sources such as sesame and sunflower seeds.

8. Watermelon

watermelon slices in a bowl

Watermelon is a refreshing and healthy summertime snack. It’s low in calories and high in water content, making it a great way to stay hydrated. Watermelon is also a good source of vitamins A and C, potassium, and citrulline.

Citrulline is an amino acid that, when consumed, gets converted to arginine in the body. Arginine is then used to make nitric oxide. This process is important for maintaining healthy blood pressure levels and preventing heart disease.

Watermelon is also a good source of lycopene, an antioxidant that has been linked to a reduced risk of cancer and heart disease.

Nitric oxide supplements

While you can increase your nitric oxide through food, you can also obtain it through a supplement.

However, these supplements do not directly provide the NO, but instead, come in the form of other elements such as L-arginine and L-citrulline, which are then converted into nitric oxide.

Risks and side effects

Nitric oxide supplements are sometimes taken to improve athletic performance or treat erectile dysfunction. However, there are some risks and side effects associated with taking nitric oxide supplements.

These supplements can cause several side effects, including headache, lightheadedness, bloating, stomach pain, nausea, heart palpitations, low blood pressure, blood in the urine, cellulitis, and infection.

In severe cases, it can cause intracranial hemorrhage, gastrointestinal bleeding, lung collapse, and acute lung injury.

You should speak to your doctor before taking nitric oxide supplements if you have any pre-existing medical conditions. People with asthma or other respiratory conditions may be particularly at risk of experiencing adverse effects from taking these supplements.

It’s also important to be aware that the FDA does not regulate nitric oxide supplements in the United States. This means that there is no guarantee of their safety or effectiveness.

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Final Thoughts

Nitric oxide is an essential compound that the body needs for various functions, especially for keeping your blood vessels healthy. This can help improve blood pressure, reduce muscle soreness, improve brain health, increase exercise performance, and lower your risk of forming blood clots.

You can easily increase nitric oxide production in the body by consuming foods rich in certain nutrients such as arginine, vitamin C, citrulline, and nitrates. Some of these nutrients are converted into nitric oxide once consumed, while others promote the bioavailability of NO, thus boosting its absorption in the body.

Best food sources of these nutrients include leafy greens, pomegranates, seeds, nuts, garlic, beets, and citrus fruits.

While you can also obtain this compound as a supplement, it often has side effects when used excessively. So it’s good to follow the recommended doses or stick to foods rich in nitric oxide.

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