“Loss of nitric oxide production is recognized as the earliest event in the onset and progression of most if not all chronic diseases, including the number one killer of men and women worldwide, cardiovascular disease.”
—Nathan S. Bryan, PhD
One of the most widely studied molecules in science, nitric oxide (NO) has become a hot topic in modern medicine. Also known as the “panacea” molecule, its important role in our optimal well-being can’t be stressed enough.
In 1998, a Nobel Prize in Medicine was jointly awarded to three scientists and pharmacologists, Louis J. Ignarro, Robert F. Furchgott and Ferid Murad for their discovery that “NO plays a significant role as a signaling molecule in our cardiovascular system.” This discovery revealed that NO is a vasodilator that reduces blood pressure and increases oxygen in the blood.
NO is produced in the endothelium, the layer of cells lining the interior surface of every blood vessel in your body. With enough NO, blood vessels can optimally relax and widen, allowing blood to flow to and from the heart (as well as to every cell in our body). It can also slow accumulation of artery-clogging plaque in vessels and prevent blood clots—a trigger for heart attacks and strokes—and diabetes complications often associated with poor blood flow. Reduced NO causes the cardiovascular system to become less elastic, reducing the flow of oxygenated blood to vital organs.
NO is also one of the most important signaling molecules in our body, intricately involved with physiological processes critical for the healthy functioning of nearly every organ, as well as the immune system and brain function. Reduction or loss of NO function is one of the earliest indicators of disease and may be associated with a number of ailments that plague an aging population. It’s worth mentioning that it’s a powerful antioxidant, neutralizing free radicals in our body—which are at the root of oxidative stress and aging.
NO therapy has also been utilized for decades in cases of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) to improve gas exchange in the lungs and allow the blood to better oxygenate. Inhaled NO therapy is now being used for severe Covid-19 cases with ARDS.
There are two ways our body normally makes NO. One is from the amino acid L-arginine. The enzyme that converts L-arginine into NO can become dysfunctional through aging, oxidative stress, chronic disease, lack of exercise, improper breathing, smoking, diabetes, a high sugar diet, etc. The other way is from the nitrate and nitrite that is found naturally in some foods. When NO production from these become limited, health problems can ensue.
How to Naturally Increase NO Production
Breathe Ayurveda’s Pranayama (science of breathing) techniques, including nasal breathing, can dramatically raise NO levels, which is inhaled in large quantities while nostril breathing. Large quantities of NO are produced in the paranasal sinuses surrounding the nasal cavity. Yoga’s “humming” breath has been proven to boost your body’s NO intake by 15 to 20 times.
Exercise Regular exercise boosts NO production in the endothelium layer of arteries and is one of the best ways to maintain artery health. Brisk walking or similar activity for 30 minutes each day will produce elevated levels of nitric oxide.
Diet Dietary nitrates can convert to NO, boosting NO activity and production, as well as protect NO against oxidative stress. Eat plenty of nitrate-rich foods: raw or powdered beetroot, spinach, arugula, kale, cabbage, lettuce,
bok choy, celery, cress, chervil, garlic, dark chocolate, citrus, watermelon, nuts and seeds, pomegranate, red wine. In addition, meat, poultry and seafood are all excellent sources of CoQ10—an important compound that helps preserve nitric oxide in the body.
Supplements Antioxidants vitamins C and E, polyphenols, glutathione, as well as alpha lipoic acid can repair oxidative damage to cells responsible for generating NO. These antioxidants are found in all foods but primarily those of plant origin, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains. In addition, L-arginine and L-citrulline are both amino acids that increase NO production. Discuss these supplements with your physician and see resources for more in-depth info.
Nitric Oxide Resources
NO More Heart Disease: How Nitric Oxide Can Prevent—Even Reverse— Heart Disease and Strokes
by Dr. Louis J. Ignarro, a Nobel Prize-winning discoverer of NO functioning. drignarro.com
The Nitric Oxide (NO) Solution
by Nathan Bryan, PhD and Janet Zand, OMD; Functional Nitric Oxide Nutrition by Nathan S. Bryan, PhD. Dr. Bryan is an international leader in molecular medicine and nitric oxide biochemistry. drnathansbryan.com
MARY BETH JANSSEN, CAyur, RYT, CMT, RYT-500, (marybethjanssen.com) is president of the Janssen Source, wellness director for a large Chicagoland Health Care Organization, and certified Ayurvedic and mind-body health specialist for the Chopra Center for Wellbeing.