What Does It Do and What is its Source?
Nitric oxide plays a crucial role in promoting increased health span and longevity. It is a molecule that is produced by the body in various ways. One way is through a process called nitric oxide synthase. This process involves the conversion of the amino acid L-arginine into nitric oxide, which is then released into the bloodstream.
In addition to internal physiological production, exposure to sunlight is another way that the body can produce nitric oxide. When UV rays from the sun penetrate the skin, they trigger the production of nitric oxide in the blood vessels, which helps to promote healthy blood flow and cardiovascular function.
At its core, nitric oxide is a signaling molecule that communicates important messages throughout the body. It helps to regulate blood pressure, support healthy circulation, reduce inflammation, and promote healthy cellular function.
Nitric oxide is essential for maintaining healthy blood flow, supporting cardiovascular health, and promoting optimal immune function. It also helps to reduce inflammation and support healthy brain function, making it a key player in overall health and wellness.
In the blood vessels nitric oxide is produced by the endothelial cells that line the inner walls. When released, it diffuses into the surrounding smooth muscle cells, causing them to relax and dilate. This dilation increases the diameter of the blood vessel, allowing for increased blood flow to the tissues and organs that the vessel supplies. That helps to reduce resistance to blood flow, allowing the heart to pump blood more efficiently, and to reduce the workload on the heart and decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease.
In terms of dietary sources, beets are a particularly good source of nitric oxide. They contain high levels of nitrates, which are converted into nitric oxide in the body. Leafy greens like spinach and arugula, as well as citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits, are also good sources of nitrates.
How Can We Increase It?
The oral microbiome plays an important role in this process. When we consume nitrate-rich foods, the bacteria in our saliva convert the nitrate into nitrite, which is then further converted into nitric oxide. This process is known as the nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide pathway. Certain oral bacteria are particularly efficient at converting nitrate into nitrite. Nitric oxide in the mouth may also play a role in oral health. Some research has suggested that nitric oxide can help to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria in the mouth, reducing the risk of cavities and gum disease.
There is some evidence to suggest that using mouthwash regularly may have a negative impact on oral nitric oxide production. This is because many types of mouthwash contain antibacterial agents that can disrupt the oral microbiome, reducing the number of bacteria that are involved in the nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide pathway.
Exercise is a powerful way to increase nitric oxide production in the body. During exercise, the body needs to deliver more oxygen and nutrients to the muscles. This increased demand for blood flow triggers the production of nitric oxide, which helps to dilate blood vessels and improve circulation. When blood flows through the blood vessels, it creates a shear stress on the vessel walls. This shear stress also triggers the production of nitric oxide, which helps to promote healthy blood flow and cardiovascular function.
Shear stress refers to the physical force exerted on the inner lining of blood vessels as blood flows through them. When blood flows through a blood vessel, there is a frictional force between the blood and the vessel wall, which creates shear stress.
Exercise directly stimulates the production of nitric oxide by activating the enzyme nitric oxide synthase (NOS). This enzyme is responsible for converting the amino acid L-arginine into nitric oxide, and exercise has been shown to increase the activity of NOS in the body. The effects of exercise on nitric oxide production can be long-lasting. Research has shown that regular exercise can lead to sustained increases in nitric oxide production, even at rest.
There is some evidence to suggest that the nasal humming vibration made during certain meditation practices, such as “Om” chanting, and in some martial arts, may increase nitric oxide production in the body. The vibrations stimulate the paranasal sinuses, which are small air-filled cavities in the bones of the skull. This stimulation can increase the production of nitric oxide in the sinuses and nasal passages, which can then be circulated throughout the body.
Does It Decline?
Nitric oxide production decreases as we age. This is due in part to a decline in the activity of the enzyme nitric oxide synthase (NOS), which is responsible for converting the amino acid L-arginine into nitric oxide.
The rate of decline in nitric oxide production can vary depending on a number of factors, including overall health status, lifestyle habits, and genetics. However, research suggests that nitric oxide production can decline by as much as 50% between the ages of 20 and 80.
While the rate of decline in nitric oxide production may vary between individuals, studies confirm that there is a significant decrease in nitric oxide production as we age. This decline may contribute to age-related conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline, and immune dysfunction.
However, as mentioned above there are strategies that can help to support healthy nitric oxide production as we age, including regular exercise, a diet rich in nitrate-containing foods, healthy sunlight exposure, and reducing exposure to environmental toxins. By incorporating these strategies into our daily routine, we can help to maintain healthy nitric oxide levels and support overall health and wellness as we age.