Whilst you’ve probably heard of some of the more common supplements, you might not know as much about the nitric oxide benefits and side effects, and what it does in the body.
Although it needs certain amino acids to encourage its production, there are some simple foods with nitric oxide that are easy to include in your regular diet. They’re definitely worth eating as there are a good number of benefits to this compound.
We’ve gone over a lot of important information on this substance, including foods, the role of nitric oxide in the body, side effects, the long term effects of nitric oxide and more:
- What Is Nitric Oxide?
- Nitric Oxide Benefits
- What Does Nitric Oxide Do For Working Out?
- How To Increase Nitric Oxide Levels
- Foods High In Nitric Oxide
- Do Nitric Oxide Supplements Work?
- Side Effects Of Nitric Oxide
- Nitric Oxide Dosage
- Nitric Oxide Deficiency
- Low Nitric Oxide Symptoms
Before you read on, does the prospect of becoming a nutritionist interest you? If so, take a look at OriGym’s level 4 advanced sports nutrition course, or download our latest course prospectus for information on all of our courses and services.
What Is Nitric Oxide?
Nitric Oxide is a vasodilator produced naturally within the body.
Vasodilators are substances that act to encourage the widening of blood vessels by helping the smooth internal muscle tissue relax. This then increases their internal diameter allowing for increased blood flow and decreased blood pressure.
One of the benefits of eggplant is that this is also a natural vasodilator and easy addition to a lot of meals!
By making the flow of blood through the blood vessels easier, your heart can be less explosive with the contractions required to pump blood through them, conserving its integrity and structure. It won’t have to put any undue stress on other components of your circulatory system.
As we are all aware, high blood pressure is a dangerous condition to have. It is known to contribute to and increase your risk of a whole host of health problems, including:
- heart disease
- heart attack
- heart failure
- peripheral arterial disease
- aortic aneurysm
- kidney disease
- vascular dementia
Clearly, these are things you would prefer not to encounter in your life. It is vitally important to manage your health and keep your blood pressure down through a combination of a healthy diet and at least 150 minutes of effortful exercise per week, aiming for a blood pressure reading between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg.
If you’d like to monitor your blood pressure regularly, you can purchase a sphygmomanometer (blood pressure reading machine) for use at home: they come in a variety of options and price brackets, usually having easy to follow, step by step instructions.
Otherwise, ask your doctor or pharmacist for a test. They will have the appropriate equipment or will point you in the right direction at least. You can also get hold of a home test that offers an indication of Nitric Oxide concentrations in your body via simple, non-invasive tests, such as saliva activated colour strips.
Although these can offer interesting and potentially helpful readings, their ability to provide accurate results is limited due to the transient nature and rapid reactions with a variety of other molecules. Therefore if you do choose to take home measurements, you should treat them as anecdotal only and not infer any medical requirements from them.
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What Does Nitric Oxide Do In The Body?
Nitric Oxide’s capacity to reduce blood pressure is a powerfully compelling goal from a general health point of view, but the vasodilating properties and subsequent benefits could be utilised in other areas of health and exercise. We’ll look at a few of these potential targets, and how to make the most of them, in the following section.
What’s The Difference Between Nitric Oxide And Nitrous Oxide?
Nitric and nitrous oxide are often confused as the same thing, yet the two are actually very different and should be treated differently.
Nitrous oxide is actually a colourless gas used as an anaesthetic that is often known as ‘laughing gas’ or just ‘nitrous’. It is usually used by dentists but has also seen a rise in popularity in recreational use due to the calming effect it has on the brain.
This is clearly very different from the nitric oxide uses that we’re about to discuss!
Benefits Of Nitric Oxide
Nitric Oxide encouragement is available from a wide variety of sources, but before we discuss how to get more of it, let’s have a look at why you might want more of it.
Some of the nitric oxide health benefits include:
#1 Improve Physical Performance
Improved blood flow has long been linked to increased athletic ability and physical performance. Improved blood flow brings better oxygen delivery and nutrient availability for muscles during exertion, increasing their tolerance for exercise and boosting performance.
Studies have reported positive effects of increased Nitric Oxide concentrations on younger participants engaging in physical activity.
However, due to the nature of Nitric Oxide pathways and their availability within elite athletes, the effect of nitric oxide on muscles are best seen in recreational and amateur athletes, leading to some discussion as to the true benefits on a global scale.
But, if you’re an average person then the reported benefits are much more likely to apply to you.
#2 Lowers Blood Pressure
Another function of nitric oxide in the body is to maintain healthy blood pressure levels.
High blood pressure can lead to a multitude of health issues, heart disease, heart attack, stroke, heart failure, aortic aneurism, kidney disease, and vascular dementia to name a few.
High blood pressure is bad, so lowering this is one of the main benefits of Nitric Oxide increasing interventions. By enabling the smooth muscle cells in blood vessels to relax, the area within the blood vessels is increased, allowing increased volumes of blood to flow with reduced resistance.
This in turn requires less effort from your heart, reducing your blood pressure and keeping your circulatory system healthy and effective.
Excessively low blood pressure can be problematic in itself: if you have clinically low blood pressure or are already taking blood pressure-lowering medication you should consult a medical professional before considering Nitric Oxide boosters.
A simple yet effective way to reduce blood pressure is by drinking green tea.
#3 Treatment For Peripheral Arterial Disease
Peripheral Arterial Disease is a condition that narrows the blood vessels and causes poor blood flow to the extremities.
As Nitric Oxide is capable of relaxing and dilating blood vessels it works as a counter to this disease. Studies have shown that taking supplements linked to increased Nitric Oxide has positive effects on the blood flow in the limbs of individuals suffering from peripheral arterial disease.
By improving the blood flow to problematic areas, healing and recovery are also encouraged, acting not only as a solution to the problem but addressing the cause as well.
#4 Treatment For Chest Pains and Angina
Angina is a condition where a reduced blood flow to the heart causes chest pains, often felt as a tightness, squeezing, or pressure in the chest.
Chest pain is often accompanied by coughing after running. Read about the causes and treatment of coughing after running in our recent blog post.
For people who suffer from angina, increased levels of Nitric Oxide in the body have been linked to reduced levels of pain and increased ability to exercise without inducing symptoms.
However, it has not conclusively been seen to dilate the problematic blood vessels in subjects with angina.
Non-angina related chest pains have also been seen to benefit from increased Nitric Oxide, encouraging exercise tolerance, which in turn allows for the strengthening of the circulatory system and muscles through physical activity, often leading to an overall reduction in sources of discomfort.
#5 Treatment for Erectile Dysfunction
Suffering from erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common occurrence in adult men, and is most commonly caused by lack of blood flow or poor circulation. ED can be a vicious circle, with increased failure of successful erections leading to decreased arousal levels, exacerbating the problem.
Does nitric oxide help erectile dysfunction? Yes!
Nitric oxide vasodilation brought about by an increased presence of this compound in the blood has been found to aid in the relaxation of muscles within the penis as well as an increased and steady flow of blood, allowing for reduced issues with achieving and maintaining an erection.
One positive experience can then help to trigger higher occurrences of successful arousal, so increasing nitric oxide for ED can be hugely beneficial.
#6 Decreased Muscle Soreness
Muscle soreness, commonly known as DOMS, can set in up to 48 hours after intense exercise and for some can be very painful.
Nitric Oxide’s ability to facilitate improved delivery of oxygen and nutrients to exercising muscles has linked increased concentration levels to reduced muscle soreness post-exercise.
Studies have found this nitric oxide occurrence to be more prevalent in recreational and amateur athletes rather than elite athletes due to the natural increase in circulatory efficiency that comes with high levels of training and exercise.
#7 Reduce Effects of Cognitive Diseases
Early research has made exciting discoveries, some of which point towards the possible benefit of nitric oxide supplements that increase blood levels for the management of Parkinson’s disease and some dementias.
If this possibility is confirmed and utilised effectively in treatment it could be life-changing for individuals who suffer from this and their families.
However, these studies are, as of yet, few in number and require further support and study before any truly conclusive evidence can be drawn from them.
What Does Nitric Oxide Do For Working Out?
Many of the benefits of nitric oxide that we’ve mentioned above will have an impact on exercise.
As a vasodilator, the blood vessels are widened and transportation of essential nutrients and oxygen occurs at a quicker rate. This is hugely beneficial during exercise as the oxygen is replenished in the muscle faster meaning you can exercise for longer.
Nitric oxide benefits bodybuilding especially as the increased blood flow also reduces muscle recovery time as these nutrients are also integral to repairing and rebuilding muscle fibres.
The increased oxygen delivery to muscles not only benefits strength training but also endurance, so a variety of people will easily benefit from taking nitric oxide for exercise.
How To Increase Nitric Oxide Levels
Firstly, if you want to take advantage of the possible benefits, you’re going to need plenty of sources of Nitric Oxide. To get this, you need to look at your diet and your lifestyle.
You won’t find this substance on a product’s ingredients list as it isn’t possible to consume natural Nitric Oxide directly to increase the levels in your body. However, you can increase the rate of production by consuming the precursors and building blocks that your body can use to synthesise it.
Ways in which you can contribute to your body’s concentration of Nitric Oxide include:
#1 Don’t Overuse Mouthwash
It might seem like a strange one, but one way to increase nitric oxide effects is to be more aware of the amount of mouthwash you use.
There are good bacteria in your mouth as well as bad. By overusing mouthwashes, you run the risk of destroying these or at least reducing their number. Some of these bacteria are responsible for initiating the breakdown of nitrates in foods.
As a result, there is a reduced impact from dietary interventions, such as increasing your vegetable intake, if your body is not equipped to take advantage of them!
Although this evidence is limited, it could be wise to reduce the use of antiseptic mouthwashes, making sure to maintain an otherwise healthy oral hygiene routine.
#2 Regular Exercise
Exercising promotes healthy heart and blood vessel function. Through increasing your body’s ability to utilise the oxygen and other nutrients carried by your blood you reduce the need for your heart to overwork and as a result reduce your blood pressure.
In doing this you avoid damaging your blood vessels which are responsible for the release of Nitric Oxide. By promoting the synthesis of nitric oxide for blood pressure through exercise you open yourself up to further improvements in your health through your body responding positively to your ability to function freely.
Basically, your body gives back what you give to it so little improvements by exercise will be reciprocated by your body. The UK government recommends at least 150 minutes of strenuous exercise a week, so if you can hit these guidelines or more you will be giving yourself a huge health advantage and ensuring that your nitric oxide lowers blood pressure as well.
Incorporating the right foods rich in nitric oxide will also boost the levels in your body. We’ll go over the right things to eat and drink in the next section as this is one of the easiest ways to boost nitric oxide in your body.
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Foods And Drinks That Boost Nitric Oxide Output
Foods High In Antioxidants
If you follow the advice to consume plenty of vegetables, then this tip is already well underway.
One of the functions of antioxidants within your body is to neutralise free radicals. In doing this they help to promote the synthesis of Nitric Oxide, increasing the concentrations in your blood and leading to the sought-after benefits.
As well as veggies, you can try:
Nitric Oxide has a relatively short half-life, meaning that it doesn’t last very long; studies have shown that by consuming nitrates and antioxidants together the longevity of Nitric Oxide is increased, allowing it to act on your body for extended periods of time.
As always, ensure that your diet is varied and balanced to ensure you feel the nitric oxide effects on the body as well as maintaining good general health. For more information check out our guide on the top antioxidant foods here.
For more nutritional guides check out some of OriGym’s other articles:
- Can Women Take Creatine? | OriGym
- Collagen: Benefits, Side Effects and Dosage
- FREE Nutrition Courses: Are They Worth It?
Vegetables High In Nitrates
When consumed, nitrates can be utilised and converted to Nitric Oxide. Green leafy vegetables are particularly nitrate-rich, such as:
Other vegetables, celery, carrots, fennel, leeks and beetroots are also very high and can provide the desired nitrates in abundance. Beetroots are also one of the best foods for energy!
Not only do these vegetables have the nitrates you’re looking for but they also contain a variety of minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants which are essential to a healthy lifestyle.
These foods tend to be high volume, low-calorie options, allowing you to add them to a variety of meals without worrying about too many extra calories!
There has been a multitude of studies into the health and physical performance benefits of vegetables and vegetable-derived supplements, many of which offer such positive results they are compared to even some medications.
Ensuring you include a variety of vegetables in your diet is a sure-fire way to increase Nitric Oxide. Not only that but the plethora of health benefits associated with vegetables makes it good all-around dietary advice.
Nitric Oxide Boosting Supplements
Just like foods that raise nitric oxide levels, supplements don’t provide increased Nitric Oxide in a dose but rather play an encouraging role by providing precursors to nitric oxide production within the body. Some of the most commonly used supplements include:
As a conditionally essential amino acid, L-Arginine is produced to a certain extent by your body under normal conditions.
L-arginine is found in foods such as red meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, legumes, nuts and seeds. You can also purchase a variety of supplemental L-arginine products, as well as L-arginine nitric oxide supplements too.
L-arginine is directly converted to Nitric Oxide within the body with notable efficacy; it is used within medications and nitric oxide supplements for its effect. Although used within medications for a variety of issues, the effects of L-arginine and increased Nitric Oxide are more definitive in a sub-optimal health population, with evidence for improved elite performance is limited.
However, regardless of its definitive effective levels, it is widely regarded as safe to take at daily doses up to 20g. Some people may experience gastrointestinal discomfort when supplementing L-arginine, even in low doses. If this is the case you should stop taking it altogether.
Learn more about L-arginine in OriGym’s nutritional guide.
L-citrulline is a non essential amino acid. This supplement is actually present in the body as a by-product of the conversion of L-Arginine to Nitric Oxide. It is then recycled back to L-Arginine and used again.
Amino acids are another essential component of the human body: read up on what they are and what amino acids do in our recent blog post.
Studies have shown that in some instances L-Citrulline has more of an effect on the concentrations of Nitric Oxide within the body than L-Arginine as it is more durable through the digestive process and can reach the blood in more effective quantities.
L-Citrulline is used for its possible performance-enhancing abilities as well as in a blood pressure reducing capacity. It is generally accepted to be safe in low or high doses.
Both L-Arginine and L-Citrulline are supplements that, amongst other things, can affect your circulatory system and should be treated with care. If you are at all unsure, if you have a pre-existing health condition, are on any medication or are pregnant you should consult your doctor before supplementing.
These supplements are available to buy from several sources and in a range of formulations. For example, nitric oxide lozenges (UK) are available: try the NEO40 DAILY 30 Lozenges which are fast-acting with a fruity flavour.
There are also several nitric oxide pills and tablets, as well as powders and nitric oxide cream, formulated to help psoriasis.
Nitric Oxide Supplements Side Effects
As with all supplements and extra dosing of substances or higher intake of foods, there are possible side effects.
This is particularly associated with L-Arginine in supplemental form and the associated side effects are generally gastrointestinal, such as abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhoea. Taking milk thistle is an effective way to help relieve abdominal stress.
Further possible side effects can also include gout and overly low blood pressure.
Your experience with supplements is subjective and you may experience side effects not listed here; if you experience any discomfort or negative effects from taking any supplements then you should cease doses. If symptoms do not subside, consult a medical professional.
L-Arginine has been linked to increased allergy response and worsened asthma so if you are prone to allergies or suffer from asthma and do decide to supplement L-Arginine, you should do so with caution under the guidance of a medical professional. Cease doses if any negative symptoms arise.
Furthermore, there is not enough evidence from scientific trials into the effects of these supplements on pregnancy so, unless prescribed as part of medical intervention, supplements should be avoided during pregnancy and breastfeeding as they can be passed through breast milk to an infant.
If you are expecting surgery, you should not take any non-medical, blood pressure effecting supplements and should always inform your doctor of any medications you are taking to ensure appropriate actions are taken for your own safety.
Nitric Oxide Dosage
As the Nitric Oxide health benefits cannot be supplemented by themselves, the recommended dosages are based on L-Arginine and L-Citrulline as supplements.
There is no minimum recommended daily intake for these as they are not essential amino acids, as a result, the dosage is determined from effective levels in scientific studies.
Doses for medical intervention can be quite high, as much as 30g a day: these levels of supplementation should always be prescribed by a doctor and not altered by the patient.
Recreational use, such as nitric oxide lozenges for blood pressure, is generally deemed safe at no more than 9g per day, with much lower doses being the norm.
You can buy L-Citrulline or L-Arginine nitric oxide supplements (UK) at 500mg or 1000mg and can generally be consumed a couple of times a day before meals and exercise.
Try the Bulk Complete Nitric Oxide tablets; these are classed as a nitric oxide pre-workout supplement combined with ingredients such as AAKG, niacin, vitamin B12 and Di-arginine malate.
Always read the label and only dose according to the recommendations on the label specific to the product as products may vary in strength and delivery system.
Nitric Oxide Deficiency
Nitric oxide deficiency in itself isn’t classified as a medical condition, but not having enough instead contributes to several other conditions. These conditions include hypertension, chronic kidney disease, psoriasis, and congenital abnormalities (such as Hirschsprung disease).
Low Nitric Oxide Symptoms
Nitric Oxide function naturally declines in old age, and this can occur prematurely: it is essential to maintain a balanced and healthy diet that is rich in nitrates and continue to exercise to the best of your abilities as regularly as you can.
If you are concerned that you may have a nitric oxide deficiency then here are some of the signs and symptoms you should look out for.
#1 High blood pressure
As we know, one of the biological functions of nitric oxide is to reduce blood pressure, so low levels can lead to high blood pressure.
You may have the ability to measure your blood pressure at home, if not, the only way to know you have high blood pressure is to have it checked by a professional.
You should have regular check-ups with your doctor to ensure you don’t develop any underlying health issues, high blood pressure included.
One of the nitric oxide bad side effects is anxiety caused by irregularity in levels within the body. Nitric oxide has been seen in studies to regulate anxiety and social disorders, an imbalance in either direction can cause feelings of anxiety and unease.
Taking theacrine is another way to help reduce the effects of anxiety. Read more about the benefits, risks, and dosage of theacrine in our recent article.
#3 Loss Of Libido, Sex Drive, Or Erectile Dysfunction
An erection not only signals arousal but also further stimulates it due to chemical releases triggered by the physical processes involved.
Nitric Oxide and erection are directly linked, particularly with the prerequisite physical changes observed with an erection, including blood flow and muscle relaxation.
If you suffer from erectile dysfunction or a general loss of sexual desire it may be a sign of Nitric Oxide deficiency, fortunately, there are a variety of supplements of nitric oxide for erectile dysfunction available to purchase.
One of the benefits of cardio and aerobic training is the reduction of stress, which in turn can increase your sex drive!
#4 Increased Fatigue Or Decreased Physical Performance
Nitric Oxide dilates blood vessels, allowing for increased blood flow. This, in turn, encourages the free transport of oxygen and nutrients around the body to areas of exertion and requirement.
Low levels of Nitric Oxide and reduced blood flow can present themselves with feelings of exhaustion and weakness.
There are a lot of vitamins for energy that you can take to reduce fatigue too.
The importance of sufficient Nitric Oxide levels in the blood is paramount to a healthy body, including an effective circulatory system, which in turn supplies the rest of your body with all the nutrients and chemicals that it needs to function.
As an adult, it is assumed that you produce sufficient Nitric Oxide within your own body to negate the need for supplements that induce extra production.
But what about if your nitric oxide levels are too high?
This is also a possibility if you eat too many nitric oxide boosting foods and supplements. The results of this can manifest in diarrhoea, nausea, stomach ache, heartburn, headaches and migraines, and even damage to brain cells.
If you have too much nitric oxide, long term side effects from damage to brain cells can include neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Huntington disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Folic acid is another supplement that can benefit cognitive diseases.
Can You Overdose On Nitric Oxide?
It is highly unlikely that you will overdose or intake too much nitric oxide, however, it is beneficial to be aware of the symptoms we mentioned above if you’ve been taking supplements as well as eating food high in nitric oxide.
On the other hand, there is an abundance of research that suggests that an increased level of Nitric Oxide production can be beneficial in a great variety of ways.
By increasing your blood concentration of Nitric Oxide, before considering supplements like L-Arginine and L-Citrulline, you should first attempt to use a natural way to increase nitric oxide in the body through a carefully managed diet, including lots of vegetables and a variety of protein sources.
If you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet then check out our guide on 18 suitable protein sources.
Support your nutrition with at least 150 minutes of heart rate increasing exercise per week. Following a healthy and balanced diet, coupled with increased levels of exercise should be sufficient to increase the levels of Nitric Oxide in your blood and bring about the desired associated health benefits.
Nitric oxide is another substance that is essential to the human body yet a little more difficult to incorporate into everyday life. Now that you’ve learned about the natural nitric oxide foods as well as side effects and benefits, you’ll no doubt be more aware of your diet and general health.
If you’ve reached the end of this article and realised that you want to learn more, then perhaps OriGym’s level 4 advanced sports nutrition course could be the best option for you! We also have a broader range of courses and diplomas that will suit your fitness and nutrition needs.
Don’t forget to download your course prospectus to find out more about our courses!
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