Why is nitric oxide important?

Nitric oxide is a molecule that your body produces to help cells communicate with each other. It does this by sending messages to different parts of the body. For many athletes, it’s commonly known as a performance-boosting supplement; just one of its many uses.

This powerful molecule helps reduce recovery time after exercising and injury, increase endurance, and improve the ability to perform and learn.

It also helps:

  • Your immune system fight off bacteria and prevent tumours.
  • Regulate blood pressure by dilating your arteries.
  • Reduce inflammation.
  • Improve sleep quality.
  • Improve bone and joint health.
  • Increase your sensory abilities (i.e. smell).
  • Increase endurance and strength.
  • Assist in gastric motility (movement of nerves and muscles during the digestive process).

Low levels of nitric oxide may lead to a deficiency. Signs of nitric oxide deficiency include fatigue, high blood pressure, depression, insomnia, asthma, anxiety and memory problems.

Boost yourself with nitric oxide

If you’re lacking nitric oxide, don’t worry, there are ways to increase your levels.

1. Eat your veggies

Some vegetables are high in nitrates which help make nitric oxide in your body. So, munching them will help up your nitric oxide levels, and improve your heart health and exercise performance. Nitrate-friendly vegetables include celery, lettuce, watercress, beetroot, spinach, arugula and chervil.

2. Up your antioxidants

Nitric oxide has many benefits but it’s an unstable molecule that can break down fast in the blood stream. So, it constantly needs to be replenished. Antioxidants help  limit the breakdown of nitric oxide by neutralising free radicals (an uncharged molecule). Common antioxidants include Vitamin C, Vitamin E, polyphenols and glutathione. These can be found in dark chocolate, goji berries, cranberries, pecan nuts and kidney beans.

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3. Get moving

One of the best ways to increase your nitric oxide levels is to exercise regularly. Weightlifting and running are particularly good. When you exercise, your heart pumps with more pressure to supply enough blood to your muscles. When this happens, your arteries release nitric oxide into your blood.

4. Take supplements

Nitric oxide boosters can help your body make nitric oxide. L-arginine and L-citrulline are the most common ingredients used in these supplements. L-arginine is an essential amino acid (made from the nutrients we ingest). It creates nitric oxide with a process called L-arginine-NO-pathway. During the process, it converts itself into nitric oxide. On the other hand, L-citrulline is a disposable amino acid (made by the body) that helps increase levels of L-arginine in your body, so it can make more nitric oxide.

Good to know 

  • Talk to your doctor before taking nitric oxide supplements or changing your diet.
  • Ingesting any amount of L-citrulline is generally safe, but it’s best to stick to a maximum of 20mg of L-arginine.
  • If you suspect you may have nitric oxide deficiency, talk to your doctor about getting tested.

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