By Dr. Lou Ignarro • November 25, 2013 • Cardio Corner with Dr. Ignarro
I talk about Nitric Oxide (NO) a lot on HealthIsWealth.net, but it’s been a while since I’ve summarized the science behind this important molecule. So, I’d like to recap NO and its role in the body.
NO is a simple, common molecule that can often be the difference between good health and illness. A gas composed of one atom of nitrogen (N) and one atom of oxygen (O), NO is produced naturally, all the time, by cells within the body. It is also a signaling molecule and is responsible for causing blood vessels to expand and relax.
The “production house” of NO is the endothelium, which is the layer of cells lining the interior surface of every blood vessel. A healthy endothelium produces lots of NO. Through relaxing and enlarging the blood vessels, NO helps the blood travel more easily throughout the body. NO is critical for the functioning of nearly every organ in the body, including the lungs, stomach, genitals and heart.
While NO is always being produced naturally inside the body, individuals can influence how much of the molecule is produced. Certain foods, supplements and activities can raise NO levels to ensure the healthy functioning of the cardiovascular system and other systems.
Benefits of Increasing NO Production
Here are some ways NO can impact the body:
Blood pressure: NO is a vasodilator and helps control blood flow to every part of the body by relaxing and enlarging blood vessels.
Blood clots: NO works to prevent platelet aggregation, which helps to reduce the chance of forming blood clots. Clots can trigger strokes and heart attacks.
Atherosclerosis: NO slows the accumulation of plaque inside blood vessels. Plaque hardens arteries and can build up, effectively clogging arteries. This leads to poor blood flow and increased blood pressure.
Diabetes: NO can prevent a variety of complications often associated with the poor blood flow associated with diabetes.
Antioxidant: NO is a powerful antioxidant, neutralizing oxygen free radicals in the body.
How to Increase NO Production
If you want to improve the health of the endothelium and increase NO production, here are a few ways to do so:
Exercise: NO is produced in greater amounts during and after exercise. By simply walking or running for 30 minutes, five times a week, the body can produce elevated levels of NO. Actually, any movement encourages the endothelial cells to produce NO.
L-arginine: Arginine is an amino acid found in red meat and other sources. It is the nutritional precursor to NO and the key nutrient to increase NO production. I recommend 4 to 6 grams of L-arginine daily.
L-citrulline: Citrulline is an amino acid found in fruits like watermelon and other sources. It complements arginine and actually recycles used arginine to produce additional NO. I recommend 0.5 to 1 gram daily.
Antioxidants: Vitamins C and E, the amino acid alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), and other antioxidants can improve the effectiveness of NO by repairing oxidative damage to the cells responsible for generating NO. I recommend 1,000 mg of Vitamin C, 400 to 1,000 IU of Vitamin E and 500 mg of ALA daily.
I could go on about this incredible molecule, but now you know the NO basics. Want to know more? I discuss the endothelium and NO in my latest book, The New Heart Health.
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