So, what's all the hype about?
While many of you are probably thinking: laughing gas, I remember that! This isn’t actually that sweet-smelling stuff your dentist gave you that one time he yanked out four of your baby teeth prematurely. Nope. Nitric oxide is one of the most important molecules your body creates. It can improve everything from your sex life (hubba hubba) to how long you’re going to live (hopefully enjoying said sex life).
What exactly is this mysterious molecule?
Before we dive into its benefits let’s break it down: science style. Nitric oxide is a molecule that’s released by the lining of our blood vessels; otherwise known as the endothelium. You can think of the endothelium as a kind of monitor for your body’s health and wellness. When this lining senses that your body is in good condition (i.e. eating the right foods and getting enough exercise), more nitric oxide is released into the bloodstream. Thus begins a positive feedback loop: nitric oxide, once released, opens up the blood vessels and decreases risk of clotting. This, in turn, boosts health even further!
Nitric Oxide: the benefits
A positive feedback loop is all well and good but let’s chat specifics.
Cardiovascular Health: As mentioned above, nitric oxide’s most important job is in assisting healthy blood flow throughout the body. Healthy blood flow = increased cardiovascular health. This means less run-ins with high blood pressure as you get older! Additionally, nitric oxide prevents plaque from forming on blood vessel walls thereby also decreasing risk of cardiovascular disease. With heart disease ranked as the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States this is a big deal.
Memory and Learning Abilities: Nitric oxide not only helps your heart but your brain as well. How? By acting as a neurotransmitter. Let’s take a look at the hypothalamus. When your mind needs an extra boost (like, say, when you’re burning the midnight oil at work or are on that last push before a big test), your body creates nitric oxide to come in for the assist. Beets for when you’re beat!
Joint Pain: It may seem like common sense given all we’ve discussed about nitric oxide, but this molecule has also been shown to help combat tough joint pain. If stiff joints are what ails you, eating nitric-oxide-boosting fruits and veggies might be just what the doctor ordered. Increased blood flow in the body results in more oxygen circulated, decreased inflammation, and a soothing of damaged nerve endings.
How to boost your nitric oxide levels
So the big question is, how can you get some? There are two main ways: through exercise or food (surprise!). When you start to get sweaty your body pushes more blood through its vessels in order to ensure your muscles have the oxygen necessary to lift weights, run that mile, or shoot hoops. Thus, your heart rate increases to pump blood at an expedited rate, which in turn causes the endothelium to pump out more nitric oxide.
As far as diet is concerned there are two amino acids you need more of to encourage nitric oxide production in your body. The first is L-arginine and the second is L-citrulline. Arginine is the more common of the two and is found in various nuts, vegetables, and fruits. For example: beets, arugula, dark chocolate, walnuts, watermelon, and spinach are all great sources of this molecule! (Props to Popeye for being the OG vegan bodybuilder and always knowing what’s good.) It’s also becoming more and more common for pre-workout powders to have nitric oxide boosting veggies inside.
So whether you’re seeking endurance physically (I see you, leg day), or mentally (midterms, whaddup!) nitric oxide’s got your back either way. Throw in the additional cardiovascular and wellness benefits and it’s no doubt that you need some of this magical molecule in your life.