Nitric oxide is a fantastic little molecule whose tiny size belies its importance in human health. The American Association for the Advancement of Science even named it the “Molecule of the Year” in 1992. In addition, research on the role of nitric oxide in cardiovascular function led to a Nobel Prize in 1998.
Nitric oxide (abbreviated: NO) is clearly a substance you should know about for your own health. It affects every tissue and organ in your body. It has to be produced continuously, since it only lasts a few seconds. Health problems appear, however, when your ability to replace nitric oxide declines as you age.
Fortunately, you can boost NO production back to youthful levels with certain dietary and lifestyle changes.
Nitric oxide should not be confused with two similar-sounding molecules. One is nitrous oxide (N2O), which is an anesthetic. The other is nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a toxic brown gas that is a major air pollutant.
How Nitric Oxide Works
Nitric oxide is a powerful vasodilator. This means that it works to keep blood vessels open. It does so by preventing the muscles in vessel walls from tightening and narrowing.
An acute deficiency of NO can trigger a heart attack. Recovery from such a cardiac emergency often depends on a short burst of NO that can be generated from nitroglycerin. This is why people who suffer from chronic heart failure carry nitroglycerin tablets.
Nitric oxide is produced by the lining of the blood vessels. This layer, called the vascular endothelium, makes NO in response to the health status of vascular tissue. When the tissue is healthy, the endothelium releases more NO. When the endothelium senses high cholesterol, high blood pressure, by-products of smoking, or even emotional distress, it reduces the production of NO.
The right amount of NO therefore determines how good your blood flow is. In contrast, a deficiency in NO leads to atherosclerosis, plaque formation, and blood clots.
By the way, atherosclerosis and impotence are closely related. Erectile dysfunction is mostly a vascular problem caused by a deficiency in nitric oxide. Indeed, Viagra and other drugs like it treat erectile dysfunction by increasing the production of NO in the vascular endothelium.
What Influences Nitric Oxide Levels?
A handful of key factors influence the production of NO. These include the following:
Aging – we produce less NO as we get older
Exercise – physical activity boosts NO levels; lack of exercise reduces them
Smoking – use of tobacco diminishes NO production
Diet – certain vegetables induce NO formation; junk foods generally lower it
Antacids – proton pump inhibitors (e.g., Prilosec, Nexium, etc.) block NO synthesis
Fortunately, you can do a lot to boost your NO production by addressing every single item on this list, including aging.
Reverse Vascular Aging
Although it might seem easy to do something about exercise, smoking, diet, and antacid use, what can you do about aging? This may be simpler than you think.
Modern medicine attributes vascular tissue damage to normal aging. However, the reality is that the youthful function of blood vessels reflects the health of the vascular endothelium. In other words, restoring the health of the lining of your blood vessels is like reversing the effects of so-called vascular aging.
Research now shows that repairing an ultrathin layer inside your vascular tissue, called the glycocalyx, is frequently the missing key to restoring youthful cardiovascular health. Heart health clearly depends on the integrity of the glycocalyx. Rejuvenating it can be as simple as consuming ingredients from certain green seaweeds that can be used to rebuild it.
What might rebuilding the glycocalyx do to boost NO production? Research just published in July 2017 confirms that a healthy glycocalyx drives the release of NO in vascular tissue.
It turns out that your life depends on nitric oxide, whose synthesis in vascular tissue depends on a healthy glycocalyx. This is the missing key to reverse vascular aging and improve your heart health.