Nitric Oxide and Health

Nitric oxide and health are closely related. Low nitric oxide levels can cause endothelial dysfunction setting you up for sexual impotence, heart attacks, high blood pressure, and stroke. A nitric oxide diet can help prevent these problems.

What Is Nitric Oxide

Nitric oxide, called NO for short, exists as a gas in your body, and allows the endothelium (the lining of your arteries) to function properly, constricting and dilating your blood vessels as needed. This is how your blood flow is regulated.

You can see why this chemical is so critical. It is made in the endothelium from the amino acid l-arginine and typically declines with age and certain medical conditions. Proper nitric oxide levels are critical to your health and the quality of your life.


Are My Levels Ok? How Do I Know?

Detecting low nitric oxide levels is based on symptoms. Since nitric oxide and health are so strongly linked, we look for symptoms of disease to identify low levels of this chemical in the body.

One huge red flag would be erectile dysfunction, also called impotence. In fact the main effect of the drug Viagra is to raise nitric oxide levels in the body, thereby allowing normal erectile response.

So if you are a man and are having trouble getting erections, it may well be that your levels of nitric oxide are low. The same endothelial dysfunction that causes heart disease can also result in erectile dysfunction.

Although there is no quick and easy way to measure nitric oxide levels, doctors can measure it indirectly by using ultrasound scans to measure the diameter of your arteries.

Thickening of artery walls can indicate developing cardiovascular disease caused by the lack of nitric oxide in your endothelial lining.

There is a new device called a CVProfilor that may soon be used to measure the elasticity of your arteries. This will give an indication of how your endothelium is functioning.

How to Boost Your Levels

You can raise your levels of this important chemical by doing three things:

A nitric oxide diet would be one that would supply the nutrients your body needs to make this essential chemical from l-arginine. This requires plenty of protein assimilated from the right foods.

Here is a short list:

  • Nuts, beans and seeds (almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, cashews, flax seeds)
  • Garlic, onions
  • Cold water fish (salmon, mackeral, sardines, tuna, shrimp)
  • Eggs
  • Chicken, especially giblets
  • Noni juice

Any foods containing high levels of the amino acid l-arginine will help your body make nitric oxide. A nitric oxide diet containing high levels of l-arginine will provide the raw material (precursor) for nitric oxide to be produced in your endothelium.


Low levels of nitric oxide can result in impotence, otherwise known as "erectile dysfunction."

Nitric Oxide Supplements

The problem with nitric oxide supplements is that they don't really contain nitric oxide! It is a gas and could not be held in stable form in a supplement designed to sit on a store shelf.

These so called nitric oxide supplements actually contain the amino acid l-arginine and the idea is that they provide the precursor molecule that the body will turn in to nitric oxide.

L-arginine has shown some effectiveness in scientific research for addressing the problem of erectile dysfunction, although the supplements containing l-arginine have not been scientifically tested for the most part, so the reports of effectiveness are anecdotal.

One supplement that has shown proven effectiveness is pharmaceutical grade fish oil.

Nitric Oxide. 2010 Apr 1;22(3):205-12. Epub 2009 Dec 28. Influence of cholesterol and fish oil dietary intake on nitric oxide-induced apoptosis in vascular smooth muscle cells. Perales S, Alejandre MJ, Palomino-Morales R, Torres C, Linares A.

Fish oil is possibly the most important supplement you can take, and has proven benefits for the cardiovascular system. You really can't go wrong with it as it is very effective against inflammation, which can seriously damage the endothelial lining of your blood vessels.

It may be that it promotes the production of nitric oxide in some way, but the net effect on nitric oxide and health is positive, so you would be wise to include it in your nutritional program.

The Testosterone Connection

Once again we find that testosterone has an important relationship to the production of nitric oxide and that when testosterone levels decline, risk of heart disease goes up. Men especially need to maintain healthy testosterone levels to guard against cardiovascular disease. Adequate testosterone is necessary for nitric oxide and health.

Biol Reprod. 2010 Sep;83(3):434-42. Epub 2010 May 12. Testosterone-induced modulation of nitric oxide-cGMP signaling pathway and androgenesis in the rat Leydig cells. Andric SA, Janjic MM, Stojkov NJ, Kostic TS. Reproductive Endocrinology and Signaling Group, Department of Biology and Ecology, Faculty of Sciences, University of Novi Sad, Novi Sad, Serbia.

The bottom line is that nitric oxide and health go hand in hand. By doing the things that promote healthy nitric oxide levels, you will be rewarded with a better sex life and drastically decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. That sounds like a “win-win,” to me!

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