What is Nitric Oxide?
Not to be confused with Nitrous Oxide (laughing gas) still used by dentists, NITRIC OXIDE (NO) is a GASEOUS SIGNALLING MOLECULE found universally in all kinds of organisms from plants and bacteria to animal cells.
As a gaseous signalling molecule Nitric Oxide performs the function of, (according to Wikipedia)
“transmit(ting) chemical signals which induce certain physiological or biochemical changes in the organism, tissue or cell.”
Nitric Oxide and Blood Pressure – How does it work?
So why is NO so important when it comes to blood pressure management? Well, simply put and without becoming too technical, there are two pathways by which NO exerts a regulatory effect on blood pressure.
Pathway 1 – Nitric oxide is used by the endothelium (or inner lining of blood vessels) to signal the surrounding smooth muscle to relax, which in turn dilates the blood vessels, thereby allowing a larger amount of blood to circulate more freely without excessively raising blood pressure.
Pathway 2 – The second route comes from the so-called nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide pathway in which nitrates synthesized from the consumption of certain foods, especially green leafy vegetables, are converted into nitrite in the mouth by an enzyme produced in the saliva. The nitrite can then be further reduced into NO by using different pathways within the body e.g haemoglobin, polyphenols.
How to Increase NO levels.
So, it quickly becomes evident that the Nitric Oxide/Blood Pressure connection is important, and that those of us who are able to maintain sufficient levels of NO in our bodies are going have an advantage when it comes to managing our BP levels.
The best way to boost NO levels is to use exercise and frequent activity in our daily lives. Exercises such as lifting weights or jogging, taking a brisk walk, or just going up and down stairs all engage the major muscles.
To work efficiently these muscles require more oxygen, and so the brain signals the heart to pump harder to meet the demand. This in turn raises the amount of pressure exerted against blood vessel walls. And this stimulates NO to allow the vessels to dilate so that more blood can pass through with less resistance without which, of course, blood pressure would increase.
When we are younger our blood vessels are more resilient and NO levels in the blood are optimal.
Unfortunately, for most of us the body’s ability to produce NO when needed declines as we get older – due to a variety of reasons. Free radical damage, build up of plaque on blood vessel walls, sedentary lifestyle and poor diet all take a toll. And sooner or later this will likely result in the onset of health concerns including pre-hypertension or high blood pressure.
The Diet Pathway to Healthy NO levels
So what happens if we change our lifestyle and add regular exercise into our routines and still our blood pressure is high of borderline high? Now what??
Well, this is where the nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide pathway comes in. Nitrates occur naturally in some foods and it turns out that the best source of nitrates is GREEN LEAFY VEGETABLES. The chart below indicates the best ten sources of nitrates in milligrams per 100 grams. Note: the beet juice is also included at the end, but the whole vegetable from is preferred to a juice form whenever possible. Smoothies made from the whole vegetables can also contain high levels of nitrates.
So by incorporating a variety of these leafy green veggies into your daily diet you can load up on nitrates which your body will ultimately convert into Nitric Oxide. The body also will turn to this source of NO if you are not producing enough NO using pathway 1 mentioned above.
NO Supplements and High Blood Pressure
If Diet is still not providing sufficient NO to keep your BP under check, then you can also try supplements as another option. As is to be expected not all supplements are created equal and some research is required to find a product which actually works.
Bearing in mind that it is the body which has to produce the Nitric Oxide – it does not come in the tablet or capsule or powder being ingested – then it is important to find a product which will provide the right ingredients in the right amounts to provide the body with the raw materials it needs to boost NO levels.
A report by Consumer Review looks at different Nitric Oxide supplements. After some extensive research into both the quality of the ingredients and the integrity of the manufacturing processes, they came up with a list of three that they would recommend:
Click here for a detailed review of these supplements.
From my examination of the options available for helping to increase Nitric Oxide in the body, as a means of helping to manage blood pressure levels, I feel that both improving diet, as well as increasing exercise and activity level, should definitely be the first plan of attack.
As far as supplements are concerned, it should be noted that NO supplements are mainly favoured by bodybuilders and by those who want to increase muscle mass.
So, should you be thinking about giving supplementation a go, then it is important to remember to check out the ingredients carefully.
I am not saying that supplementation cannot be a potential adjunct to sensible diet and staying active: Rather the decision to use supplements should be based on carefully choosing a quality supplement, followed by a gradual implementation strategy to see how exactly the ingredients are going to affect your body.
Also please be aware that some NO supplements may contain caffeine which can actually pose a risk to anyone dealing with hypertension or an underlying heart condition. In such cases prior consultation with a medical professional is always advised!
I hope you found this post on Nitric Oxide of interest, and I value any comments you may have about this topic below.