Nitric oxide is a fascinating topic which I trust not a lot of people have heard about. I am here to change this. Prepare to be blown away!
What is Nitric Oxide?
Let us start with the absolute basics. What is nitric oxide? Nitric oxide is a chemical gas which has the structure NO. It belongs to the principal oxides of nitrogen. It is amazing within our bodies and that is truly what we want to talk about today.
Nitric oxide is a molecule, which in our cardiovascular system helps our blood pressure and blood vessels to be healthy. The arteries produce nitric oxide and also prevent inflammation of the arteries. This little molecule has the potential to prevent stroke and myocardial infarction. Nitric oxide can also do a whole range more and is involved in many processes within our bodies. We will touch on all of those a bit further on.
How Was Nitric Oxide Discovered?
Nitric oxide was discovered by three doctors Louis J. Ignarro, Robert F. Furchgott, and Ferid Murad. They received the Nobel prize for discovering the signaling properties of nitric oxide. For years, Dr. Ignarro saw a difference between people who were obese and leading a sedentary lifestyle and those that did not. The ones in the first category were experiencing higher blood pressure challenges, heart attacks, and strokes. This inkling fueled his wish to become a scientist and research the topic. The doctors’ discovery also solved another challenge in relation to erectile dysfunction. Read on 😉.
How Does Nitric Oxide Work in The Body?
Nitric oxide is a free radical. Oddly enough these are always the ones we are trying to avoid. So why is this one good for our bodies? Even though nitric oxide is a free radical, it is considered fairly “safe”. The reason why it becomes so great is because it interacts with other free radicals. They form a covalent bond and are then taken out of the body. This can extent to all sorts of other free radicals: Fatty acid free radicals, oxygen free radicals, etc. By neutralizing these other, not so great, free radicals, nitric oxide acts as a powerful anti-inflammatory. Nitric oxide is formed super quickly within our bodies and just as quickly eliminated.
Why is Nitric Oxide So Important for Us?
So, what does nitric oxide support in the body?
As said above, nitric oxide acts as a powerful anti-inflammatory. Amongst others, nitric oxide prevents inflammation of the arterial wall. This, in turn, will prevent certain blood cells from depositing cholesterol plats and can avoid atherosclerosis. This is why our arteries also make nitric oxide to protect us against hypertension and inflammation. The anti-inflammatory effects also prevents unwanted blood clotting. We talk about this often on the blog, less inflammation in the arteries means less chances of strokes, coronary artery disease, and heart attacks. Inflammation may be one of the key pathways to disease, and preventing chronic inflammation is so important for longevity.
Statins are technically used to lower “bad” cholesterol levels and are prescribed as a cholesterol medication. But, it appears that statins support nitric oxide production in the body. This is mainly done by upregulating the enzyme that produces nitric oxide in the first place. In turn, this lowers our cholesterol levels (by eliminating them from the body), and thereby also supports heart health. There is a bit more research which needs to go into this topic but the initial results of this co-existence are interesting.
Blood Vessel Health
We have covered this topic above, but I wanted to mention it again in this section. Nitric oxide gets produced in the blood vessels and is vital for our blood pressure and blood vessel health. It acts as a vasodilator, meaning it relaxes the inner muscles of your blood vessels, causing the vessels to widen. This, in turn, increases the blood flow in your arteries and thereby reduces the pressure on it. Less pressure equals better health for our heart.
The neurotransmitter that can lead to less erectile dysfunction (or eliminate it completely) is… you guessed it: Nitric oxide. This is exactly what viagra does. Originally developed as a blood pressure medication (which did work, but had surprising side effects in the male participants of the study), Pfizer put the drug back on the shelf until the discovery of nitric oxide. This was because they could not pin point to the neurotransmitter that caused the ‘side-effects’ in men until discovered. Nowadays, of course, this is a well known drug all over the world.
You may wonder what nitric oxide has in common with breathing but there is a very cool connect. Nose breathing is better for you than breathing through your mouth. Why? Breathing through our mouth exposes us to all of the toxins in our environment, which enter our bodies unfiltered. Breathing through the nose, on the other hand, means that the air enters through an ornate structure. Here, it gets heated up, moisted, and filtered. The nasal airways release nitric oxide, which kills viruses, bacteria, and fights inflammation.
The released nitric oxide also widens your airways and arteries. This allows more oxygen to reach your lungs (about 25% more than breathing through the mouth), but is also means that there is a greater oxygen exchange in the lung.
Nitric oxide is released in certain areas of the brain. Particularly in those that promote memory, learning, and information recall. Many scientists believe that Alzheimer’s disease may be attributed to a lack of nitric oxide in the brain. The brain has ten times more nitric oxide than any other part of the body and up until this day we do not really know why. Do not forget that nitric oxide’s anti-inflammatory powers are also hugely important for brain health.
Other Areas Worth Mentioning
Nitric oxide has been shown to protect your skin from the sun and potentially skin cancer. It also promotes digestion by helping the movement of digestive foods and regulating enzymes and hormones in the digestive tract.
How do I Measure Nitric Oxide in My Body?
Because nitric oxide is an unstable gas, it is impossible to measure in our bodies up until this very day. As quickly as it is made, as quickly it is gone. It usually has a “shelf-life” of about 3 seconds. This is meant to be that way and indicates that it is working correctly in our bodies. Whereas we are able to measure certain by-products within our bodies, we cannot measure nitric oxide itself.
I hope by now you find this little molecule as fascinating as I do. Next week, we will cover how you can increase nitric oxide within your body.