The Benefits of Nitric Oxide

Posted by Kim
August 19, 2021

Nitric oxide, the same chemical that helps men achieve an erection, may help women preserve
their fertility and improve their chances of having a healthy baby

Fertility + The Role of Nitric Oxide

 

Nitric oxide is a vital molecule produced in your body that impacts many aspects of health. It helps blood vessels dilate to promote proper blood flow and may provide various health benefits, including improved exercise performance, lower blood pressure and better brain function. It has also been proven to have beneficial effects on the endometrial lining and has been proven to help support implantation and improve fertility.

Nitric oxide, the same chemical that helps men achieve an erection, may help women preserve their fertility and improve their chances of having a healthy baby by fighting the effects of ageing on their ovaries.

A new study shows that exposure to nitric oxide delayed the signs of ageing in mouse eggs, which, like eggs from older women, deteriorate rapidly and are more difficult to fertilise properly.

“Eggs from older women may be particularly sensitive to ageing after they are released from the ovaries,” states researcher Husam Abu-Soud, PhD, of Wayne State University, in a news release. “As a result, the time available for optimal fertilisation of these women’s eggs may be quite a bit shorter than the time frame in younger women.”

But exposing the eggs to appropriate levels of nitric oxide “could extend this fertilisable time window in both old and young women,” says Abu-Soud.

Researchers say the findings also suggest that nitric oxide may be used to enhance the fertility of eggs harvested for in vitro fertilization.

The results showed that nitric oxide appeared to slow the hardening of the eggs’ outer shells, increase the release of molecules that prevent improper fertilisation by more than one sperm, and fight other signs of ageing that could interfere with fertilisation.

Researchers say that in addition to possibly prolonging fertility in women, the results suggest that nitric oxide may help prevent genetic abnormalities during early embryo development, which may have applications in preventing Down syndrome, spontaneous miscarriages, and other problems often associated with pregnancies among older women.

Nitric Oxide’s Role in Conception & Pregnancy  

Even something as simple as insufficient nitric oxide can be the proverbial straw that breaks the  camel’s back in terms of infertility or the health of the unborn child. Nitric oxide is a free radical  that has beneficial effects in the body. For example, nitric oxide signals the smooth muscle  surrounding the endothelium of the blood vessels to relax, leading to vasodilation and  enhanced blood flow. This ability can aid in conception, as it improves erectile function. 

However, levels of nitric oxide and its precursor, nitrate, can be lowered by such factors as  pollution, heavy metals, other toxins, and ageing. 

Nitric oxide (NO) is critical for many aspects of conception and pregnancy. It is involved  in several aspects of sperm health, such as motility and viability. NO also plays an important  regulatory role in many female reproductive processes, including ovulation, implantation, and a  healthy pregnancy that is followed by successful labor and delivery. The mechanism by which the fertility drug clomiphene citrate increases the ovulation and pregnancy rate in women with polycystic ovary syndrome may involve increasing levels of nitric oxide.

Furthermore, during  follicle development, levels of circulating NO-products increase.  

On the other hand, levels decrease immediately following ovulation. Nitric oxide synthase (NOS) is  an enzyme that promotes the synthesis of NO by converting L-arginine to L-citrulline. There are  several isoforms of this enzyme, including inducible NOS (iNOS). Blocking iNOS leads to a 50%  reduction of ovulation, whereas NO completely reverses the effects of this inhibition. 

Nitric oxide is also involved in the interleukin-1 (IL-1) system of the ovaries, which plays a role in  ovulation. IL-1 is the trigger for several ovulation-associated events, such as the production of  prostaglandins and progesterone, glycosaminoglycan generation, and increased vascular  permeability. 

Furthermore, NO controls endometrial functions including endometrial receptivity, implantation,  and menstruation. Therefore, raising NO levels may promote fertility, while the blockage of NO  might act as a contraceptive.  

NO is also involved in uterine contractility, as evidenced by its role during gestation. During  gestation, NO synthesis increases in the myometrium (middle layer of the uterine wall). However,  when it is time to give birth, NO synthesis declines, allowing for contractions during labour. NO donor agents have been used to stop premature labour. Unlike the myometrium, the cervix has  low levels of NO during gestation. As the pregnancy reaches term, cervical NO levels rise. Agents  that lead to increased NO production are used as cervical ripening substances.

 

 

The 10 Best Foods to Boost Nitric Oxide Levels 

 

Switching up your diet is one of the best and most effective ways to naturally boost levels of this  important molecule.  

Here are the 10 best foods to boost your nitric oxide levels.  

  1. Beets   

Beets are rich in dietary nitrates, which your body can convert to nitric oxide. According to one study in 38 adults, consuming a beetroot juice supplement increased nitric  oxide levels by 21% after just 45 minutes.  

Similarly, another study showed that drinking 3.4 ounces (100 ml) of beetroot juice significantly  increased nitric oxide levels in both men and women.   

Thanks to their rich content of dietary nitrates, beets have been linked to a number of health  benefits, including improved cognitive function, enhanced athletic performance and lower blood  pressure levels.  

  1. Garlic   

Garlic can boost nitric oxide levels by activating nitric oxide synthase, the enzyme that aids in the  conversion of nitric oxide from the amino acid L-arginine.  

One animal study showed that aged garlic extract temporarily increased blood nitric oxide levels  by up to 40% within an hour of consumption.  

Another test-tube study found that aged garlic extract also helped maximise the amount of nitric  oxide that can be absorbed by the body.  

Both human and animal studies indicate that garlic’s ability to increase nitric oxide levels may  have a beneficial effect on health and can help lower blood pressure and improve exercise tolerance.  

  1. Meat   

Meat, poultry and seafood are all excellent sources of coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10 — an important  compound believed to help preserve nitric oxide in the body.  

In fact, it’s estimated that the average diet contains between 3–6 mg of CoQ10, with meat and  poultry supplying about 64% of the total intake.  

Organ meats, fatty fish and muscle meats like beef, chicken and pork contain the highest  concentration of CoQ10.  

Studies show that getting enough CoQ10 in your diet not only preserves nitric oxide but can also  help improve athletic performance, prevent migraines and promote heart health. 

  1. Dark Chocolate   

Dark chocolate is loaded with flavanols — naturally occurring compounds that boast an extensive  list of powerful health benefits.  

In particular, research shows that the flavanols found in cocoa can help establish optimal levels of  nitric oxide in your body to promote heart health and protect cells against oxidative damage. 

One 15-day study in 16 people showed that consuming 30 grams of dark chocolate daily led to  significant increases in nitric oxide levels in the blood.  

What’s more, participants experienced decreases in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure  levels — the top and bottom number of the blood pressure reading.  

Because of its rich content of nitric-oxide-boosting flavanols, dark chocolate has been associated  with improved blood flow, enhanced brain function and a lower risk of heart disease, too. 

  1. Leafy Green Vegetables   

Leafy green vegetables like spinach, arugula, kale and cabbage are packed with nitrates, which  are converted to nitric oxide in your body.  

According to one review, regular consumption of nitrate-rich foods like green leafy vegetables can  help maintain sufficient levels of nitric oxide in the blood and tissues.  

One study even showed that eating a nitrate-rich meal containing spinach increased salivary  nitrate levels eightfold and significantly decreased systolic blood pressure (the top number).  

Other research has found that consuming high-nitrate leafy greens may also be associated with a  reduced risk of heart disease and cognitive decline  

  1. Citrus Fruits   

Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit are all excellent sources of vitamin C, an  important water-soluble vitamin that plays a central role in health.  

Vitamin C can enhance levels of nitric oxide by increasing its bioavailability and maximising its  absorption in the body.  

Research shows that it may also bump up levels of nitric oxide synthase, the enzyme needed for  the production of nitric oxide.  

Studies indicate that citrus fruit consumption may be linked to decreased blood pressure,  improved brain function and a lower risk of heart disease — all of which may be due in part to  their ability to boost nitric oxide levels.  

  1. Pomegranate   

Pomegranate is loaded with potent antioxidants that can protect your cells against damage and  preserve nitric oxide.  

One test-tube study showed that pomegranate juice was effective in protecting nitric oxide from  oxidative damage while also increasing its activity.  

Another animal study found that both pomegranate juice and pomegranate fruit extract were able  to increase levels of nitric oxide synthase and boost the concentration of nitrates in the blood.  

Human and animal studies have found that antioxidant-rich pomegranate can improve blood flow,  which may be especially beneficial in treating conditions like high blood pressure and erectile  dysfunction.  

  1. Nuts + Seeds  

Nuts and seeds are high in arginine, a type of amino acid that is involved in the production of nitric  oxide.  

Some research suggests that including arginine from foods like nuts and seeds in your diet can  help increase nitric oxide levels in your body.  

For example, one study in 2,771 people showed that a higher intake of arginine-rich foods was  associated with higher levels of nitric oxide in the blood.  

Another small study found that supplementing with arginine increased levels of nitric oxide after  just two weeks.  

Thanks to their arginine content and stellar nutrient profile, regularly eating nuts and seeds has  been associated with lower blood pressure, improved cognition and increased endurance.  

  1. Watermelon   

Watermelon is one of the best sources of citrulline, an amino acid that’s converted to arginine and,  ultimately, nitric oxide in your body.  

One small study found that citrulline supplements helped stimulate nitric oxide synthesis after just  a few hours but noted that it may take longer to see positive effects on health.  

Meanwhile, another study in eight men showed that drinking 10 ounces (300 ml) of watermelon  juice for two weeks led to significant improvements in nitric oxide bioavailability.  

Recent research suggests that upping your intake of watermelon not only enhances nitric oxide  levels but can also improve exercise performance, decrease blood pressure and boost blood flow.  

  1. Red Wine  

Red wine contains many powerful antioxidants and has been tied to a multitude of health benefits. 

Interestingly, some studies have found that drinking red wine could also increase levels of nitric  oxide.  

One test-tube study showed that treating cells with red wine increased levels of nitric oxide  synthase, an enzyme involved in the production of nitric oxide. 

Another test-tube study had similar findings, reporting that certain compounds found in red wine  enhanced nitric oxide synthase and increased the release of nitric oxide from the cells that line the  blood vessels. 

For this reason, it’s not surprising that moderate consumption of red wine has been shown to  reduce blood pressure and improve heart health.  

5 Ways to Increase Nitric Oxide Naturally 

 1.Eat Vegetables High in Nitrates   

Nitrate, a compound found in certain vegetables, is one of the many reasons vegetables are  healthy for you.  

Vegetables high in nitrate include:  

  • Celery 
  • Cress 
  • Chervil 
  • Lettuce 
  • Beetroot 
  • Spinach 
  • Arugula  

When these foods are consumed, nitrates are converted into nitric oxide, which confers a wide  range of health benefits related to heart health and exercise performance.  

In fact, several analyses have shown that eating nitrate-rich vegetables can lower blood pressure  as much as some blood pressure medications.  

Strong evidence favours nitrates, especially from beetroot, for improving exercise performance in  athletes.  

Despite the effects that nitrates have on nitric oxide production in your body, some people avoid  them for fear they are harmful and contribute to cancer.  

This is likely because sodium nitrates are commonly used as a preservative and colour fixative in  bacon, cold cuts and hot dogs. 

 Eating these foods is linked to bowel cancer, and nitrates are thought to be the culprit.  

Nitrates can form N-nitroso compounds, such as nitrosamine, which are capable of causing  cancer.  

However, vegetables, which account for more than 80 percent of nitrate intake, contain  antioxidants like vitamin C, which help prevent the formation of N-nitroso compounds.  

Therefore, nitrates from vegetables are harmless, whereas nitrates in processed meats can be  troublesome to health, particularly when consumed in excess over long periods.  

  1. Increase Your Intake of Antioxidants  

 Nitric oxide is an unstable molecule that degrades quickly in the bloodstream, so it must be  constantly replenished. 

One way to increase its stability and limit its breakdown is by consuming antioxidants. 

Antioxidants are molecules that neutralise free radicals, which contribute to the short life of nitric  oxide.  

These antioxidants are found in all foods but primarily those of plant origin, such as fruits,  vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains.  

A few important antioxidants include:  

  • Vitamin C: This antioxidant helps your body form connective tissues, including skin, bones,  tendons and cartilage. It also produces brain chemicals that help nerve cells communicate. Vitamin E: This antioxidant protects cells from the damaging effects of free radicals, which  are thought to contribute to ageing and disease. It also plays an important role in keeping  the immune system strong. 
  • Polyphenols: This category of antioxidants is associated with several health benefits,  including a reduced risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. 
  • Glutathione: Coined “the mother of all antioxidants,” glutathione is the master antioxidant  and detoxifier of every cell in your body. 

Several studies have found that ingesting nitric oxide precursors, such as nitrate or citrulline, with  antioxidants maintains greater levels of nitric oxide in your body by helping reduce its breakdown.  

Vegetables that are high in nitrate are also inherently high in antioxidants, which is likely why  vegetables are so effective at increasing and maintaining optimal levels of nitric oxide.  

  1. Use Nitric-Oxide-Boosting Supplements  

Several dietary supplements are marketed as “nitric oxide boosters.”  

These supplements don’t contain nitric oxide itself, but they include ingredients that help form  nitric oxide in your body.  

Two of the most commonly used ingredients are L-arginine and L-citrulline. L-Arginine   

L-arginine is a conditionally essential amino acid, meaning it only has to be consumed in the diet  under certain conditions, while healthy adults can make all they need.  

It directly produces nitric oxide through a process called the L-arginine-NO pathway. Several studies support the use of L-arginine for increasing blood flow, but only in certain  populations.  

In those with high blood pressure, including pregnant women, L-arginine is effective at lowering  blood pressure.  

However, evidence on the ability of L-arginine to improve blood flow or exercise performance in  healthy individuals remains mixed.  

L-arginine is generally recognized as safe when taking 20 grams per day, but it may cause  digestive symptoms at dosages as low as 10 grams.  

L-Citrulline   

L-citrulline is a dispensable amino acid, meaning your body can make all it needs.  

When L-arginine is converted to nitric oxide, L-citrulline is produced as a byproduct. L-citrulline can then be recycled back to L-arginine and used to increase your body’s natural  production of nitric oxide.  

In fact, L-citrulline increases levels of L-arginine in your body more than supplementing with L arginine itself does. This is because a large percentage of L-arginine is broken down before  reaching your bloodstream.  

Studies have found L-citrulline to increase blood flow, improve exercise performance and lower  blood pressure. 

L-citrulline is considered relatively safe, and there is a low risk of side effects, even with high  doses.  

  1. Limit Your Use of Mouthwash   

Mouthwash destroys bacteria in your mouth that can contribute to the growth of cavities and  other dental diseases.  

Unfortunately, mouthwash kills all types of bacteria, including the beneficial ones that help  produce nitric oxide.  

Special bacteria in the mouth convert nitrate to nitric oxide. In fact, humans cannot produce nitric  oxide from nitrate without these bacteria.  

Research has shown that mouthwash kills the oral bacteria needed to produce nitric oxide for up  to 12 hours.  

This leads to a decrease in nitric oxide production and, in some instances, an increase in blood  pressure.  

The detrimental effects of mouthwash on nitric oxide production may even contribute to the  development of diabetes, which is characterised by malfunctions in insulin production or action.  

This is because nitric oxide also regulates insulin, which helps cells utilise the energy obtained  from food after it’s digested. Without nitric oxide, insulin cannot work properly.  

One study found that people who used mouthwash at least twice daily were 65% more likely to  develop diabetes than those who never used mouthwash.  

Therefore, to maintain adequate nitric oxide production, it’s best to use mouthwash sparingly. 

5. Get Your Blood Flowing With Exercise   

Exercise really does get your blood pumping, largely because it improves endothelial function.  

Endothelium refers to the thin layer of cells that line the blood vessels. These cells produce nitric  oxide, which keeps blood vessels healthy.  

Insufficient nitric oxide production results in endothelium dysfunction, which can contribute to  atherosclerosis, high blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease. 

 Exercise keeps your endothelial cells and blood vessels healthy by increasing your body’s natural  ability to produce nitric oxide.  

Several studies have shown that regular physical activity increases endothelial vasodilation in  people who have high blood pressure and heart disease, as well as in healthy individuals.  

Studies have also shown that exercise increases antioxidant activity, which helps inhibit the  breakdown of nitric oxide caused by free radicals.  

The benefits of exercise on endothelial health and nitric oxide production can be seen in as little  as 10 weeks when exercising for 30 minutes at least three times a week.  

For optimal results, combine aerobic training, such as walking or jogging, with anaerobic training,  such as resistance training. The types of exercise you choose should be things you enjoy and can  do long term.  

The Bottom Line   

Nitric oxide is a crucial compound involved in many aspects of health, including improving fertility,  blood pressure regulation, athletic performance and brain function.  

Making a few simple swaps in your diet can be an easy and effective way to increase your levels  of nitric oxide naturally.  

Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and healthy protein foods can optimise nitric oxide  levels while also promoting better overall health in the process.  

Important Contra-Indications  

Studies have shown that there is an increase in nitric oxide with patients who are diagnosed with  endometriosis. Although the studies are limited and require further investigation into their validity,  preliminary indications suggest that for this reason if you are suffering from endometriosis, we do  not recommend a diet rich in nitric oxide.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About Kimberley

Kimberley, Acupuncturist and Clinic Director at Life + Lemons, is a registered TCM (Traditional Chinese Medical) Acupuncturist, passionate about helping women reclaim their feminine edge. After graduating with a First Class Honors in York, she has undertaken specialist training in the area of pain management, natural conception, IVF support, menopause + pelvic pain (endometriosis/dysmenorrhea).

 

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