Health benefits of nitric oxide
By Dr. Julian Whitaker
Filed Under: Heart Health, Men's Health
We knew about the health benefits of nitric oxide long before scientists were aware of its presence in the human body. Nitroglycerin, a drug that works on nitric oxide pathways, was adopted as a medical therapy for angina and high blood pressure in the 1880s, but another century passed before anyone had any inkling of why it worked.
The discovery of nitric oxide and its biological activities was so astounding that the 1998 Nobel Prize was awarded to the three pharmacologists who identified and furthered our understanding of this dynamic molecule. Let’s take a look at the multiple roles and benefits of nitric oxide and how you can increase its production to improve numerous aspects of your health.
Multiple Roles and Benefits of Nitric Oxide
Nitric oxide is a key signaling molecule throughout the body. Produced by the endothelial cells lining the arteries, it penetrates the underlying smooth muscles and acts as a potent vasodilator that relaxes the arteries. Therefore, nitric oxide plays a critical role in blood pressure and overall circulation. It also keeps the endothelium in shape by curbing inflammation and oxidative stress.
Unfortunately, atherosclerosis, the underlying cause of heart disease and other vascular disorders, is characterized by endothelial dysfunction and a limited capacity to produce nitric oxide. It’s a vicious cycle. Diseased arteries can’t generate enough protective nitric oxide, and low nitric oxide levels set the stage for further damage, hypertension, and increased risk of cardiac events.
This explains why nitroglycerin is such an effective therapy for angina. It triggers nitric oxide production, which dilates narrowed coronary arteries, improving circulation and delivering much-needed oxygen to the heart muscle. Restoring nitric oxide availability also lowers blood pressure and helps treat erectile dysfunction. In fact, the popular erectile dysfunction drugs Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra work on nitric oxide pathways to increase blood flow to the penis and substantially improve erections.
Additionally, this essential compound is generated in the brain, where it’s involved in neurotransmission. That’s why nitric oxide benefits also include protection against dementia and other neurodegenerative disorders. Nitric oxide is synthesized in the white blood cells as well and is used as a weapon against bacteria, fungi, parasites, and aberrant cancer cells.
In the gastrointestinal tract, it relaxes smooth muscle cells and helps regulate intestinal peristalsis and the secretion of mucus and gastric acid. Nitric oxide is also involved in insulin signaling, bone remodeling, respiratory function, ATP (energy) utilization, and mitochondrial biogenesis, or the creation of new cellular “energy factories.” Since there are so many benefits of nitric oxide, it makes sense for all of us to boost our production of this essential compound.
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