What is nitric oxide and science of nitric oxide health benefits


Here I am talking about solely about nitric oxide that synthesizes inside the human body, not industrial nitric oxide. In 1998  Robert F. Furchgott, Louis J. Ignarro, and Ferid Murad wins Nobel prize for discovering nitric oxide’s role as a cardiovascular signaling molecule. Nitric oxide plays many vital rules in the cellular function of nearly all organ systems of the body. In this article, our topic is the science of nitric oxide health benefits.

What is nitric oxide(NO)?

Nitric oxide(NO) is a small signaling gas molecule made of Nitrogen and oxygen. It has a very short span of life and diffuses rapidly. The human body produces nitric oxide at various locations to communicate with every cellular and organ function in the body by signal transmission. NO produced by one cell readily diffuses to another adjacent cell and then starts signaling. It is a highly reactive molecule.

NO is produced in the body through a complex process with two pathways enzymatic i.e. produced from enzyme and non-enzymatic pathway. In the enzymatic pathway, NO is produced from amino acid L-arginine through a series of reactions which is the largest source of NO production. In the other source non-enzymatic pathway, NO is derived from nitrite through multiple pathways. It occurs particularly under acidic conditions and mainly in tissue. (1)

Nitric oxide plays key roles in a variety of biological functions throughout the whole body including vascular or blood flow regulation, erectile dysfunction, immune response, inflammation, performance, memory, and anti-thrombotic activity.

Science of nitric oxide(NO) health benefits

Vascular and blood pressure regulation

Nitric oxide released from endothelium cells i.e. cells of the inner lining of blood vessels helps them in relaxations of the vascular smooth muscle. Such condition further contributes to dilate or widen blood vessels, which improves blood flow as well as decreases high blood pressure.  Thus nitric oxide plays an important rule in the regulation of blood pressure. (2)

Blood vessel wall Pic Courtesy: wikipedia

Related post:

Best foods to lower high blood pressure or hypertension 

Nervous system/Memory

Nitric Oxide (NO) produced by neurons or nerve cells involves modulating ion channels, neuronal excitability and mediates synaptic plasticity i.e. the ability of synapses. Synapses structure permits a neuron to pass the electrical and chemical signal to another nerve cell.(3)

Thus nitric oxide acts as a neurotransmitter to regulate signals as well as various functions including digestion and blood flow to brain and vision.


NO improve performance by enhancing mitochondrial energy efficiency. Being the power booster of the human body, mitochondria control the energy output, performance. NO affects two important aspects of oxygen demand and supply and controls mitochondrial oxygen consumption as well as regulates vascular tone and blood flow. (4) And thus enhances performance.

Beets contain dietary nitrate which further can convert to nitric oxide, enhances performance as well as has some other health benefits. You can read more about this with this link.

Inflammation and Immune Response

Cells of the innate immune system contain macrophages, which are a type of leukocyte (white blood cell) that inhibits foreign invaders. Activated macrophages inhibit harmful pathogens by releasing a variety of effector molecules, including NO thus gives protection to the cells.

In addition to macrophages, a large number of other immune-system cells produce and respond to NO. Thus, NO is important as a toxic defense molecule against harmful pathogens. It also regulates the functional activity, growth, and death of many immune and inflammatory cell types including macrophages, T lymphocytes, antigen-presenting cells, mast cells, neutrophils, and natural killer cells. (5)

Chronic inflammation is the key condition of most chronic diseases in the modern lifestyle. You can read about the most common causes of chronic inflammation as well as prevention.

Nitric oxide and penile erectile function

Nitric oxide also takes part in penile erectile function. Smooth muscle of the blood vessel of the penis regulates the functional state of the penis. NO involves the signalling of the autonomic nervous system, including the smooth muscles of those spongy tissues of the penis. NO from nerves and endothelium plays a crucial role in initiating and maintaining pressure increase at the base of the penis, penile vasodilatation, and penile erection. Impaired formation and action of NO can also cause erectile dysfunction.(6)

Nitric oxide released within the penis regulates blood flow into the spongy penis tissue. And thus helps to elevate and harden the penis.

Also, read Ashwagandha for men’s health

Bottom line

Like oxygen nitric oxide also plays dual rules to the body. Direct toxicity of NO is modest but it can be enhanced by reacting with superoxide anions (O2, which is highly reactive compounds produced when oxygen is reduced by a single electron) to form peroxynitrite (ONOO-). (7)

Peroxynitrite interacts with lipids/fats, DNA, and proteins by oxidative reactions, free radical-mediated mechanisms and damage cells, tissues, organs leading to health complicacies.(8)

Sources of free radicals are many. That’s why your body requires intake of a good amount of antioxidant to neutralize free radicals. Body’s endogenous defense sources like Glutathione, Coenzyme Q(designed as  CoQ10 or ubiquinol),  Dihydrolipoic acid, etc as well as other dietary sources including vitamin c or ascorbic acid, vitamin E, carotenoids and plant phytonutrient flavonoids work as free radicals fighter and give protection to the cells or tissues of the body.  Glutathione and Coenzyme Q are depleted as people age and also with some other lifestyle factors. We will come later in detail about what vitals rules they are playing and how to restore them. You can read more about free radicals and antioxidants with this link.

Under certain conditions like hypoxia(deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching the tissues), NO can cause contraction rather than relaxation of the underlying vascular smooth muscle.

Release of NO by the endothelial cell can be up-regulated by estrogens, exercise, and diet. On the other hand factors like oxidative stress, smoking, pollution, and oxidized LDL down-regulate release of NO. And also it is reduced with aging and vascular diseases like diabetes and hypertension. (9)

Some vegetables help to boost NO inside the body, you can read more about it with this link.

Related Post:

Most common causes of lifestyle diseases and preventive measures

Disclaimer: Information provided here are generalized information 
for informational and entertainment purpose only,  not intended 
to provide one to one health consultation or replace practice of 
a qualified practitioner.Different people may have different 
health condition and may have different reaction to the same 
food. Hence it has been advised to consult with health  
care provider before application of any of above information
Source and references: 
Luiking, PhD, Mariëlle P.K.J. Engelen, PhD, and Nicolaas E.P. Deutz, MD, 
PhD, Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2010 Jan; 13(1): 97–104 
2.Nitric oxide as a unique signaling molecule in the vascular system: a 
historical overview., Ignarro LJ., J Physiol Pharmacol. 2002 
3.Nitric oxide signalling augments neuronal voltage-gated L-type (Ca(v)1) 
and P/q-type (Ca(v)2.1) channels in the mouse medial nucleus of the 
trapezoid body,Tozer AJ, Forsythe ID, Steinert JR.,PLoS One. 
2012;7(2):e32256. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0032256. Epub 2012 Feb 28 
4.Nitric Oxide in the Vasculature: Where Does It Come From and Where Does 
It Go? A Quantitative Perspective, Kejing Chen, Roland N. Pittman, and 
Aleksander S1. PopelAntioxid Redox Signal. 2008 Jul;10(7):1185-1198, 
5.The role of nitric oxide in inflammatory reactions,Parul Tripathi,  
Prashant Tripathi,   Luv Kashyap,  Vinod Singh, FEMS Immunology & Medical Microbiology, 
Volume 51, Issue 3, 1 December 2007, Pages 443–452 
6. Nitric oxide and penile erectile function,Toda N, Ayajiki K, Okamura 
T.,Pharmacol Ther. 2005 May;106(2):233-66. Epub 2005 Mar 2 
7.Nitric oxide, superoxide, and peroxynitrite: the good, the bad, and 
ugly,Beckman JS, Koppenol WH., Am J Physiol. 1996 Nov;271(5 Pt 1):C1424-37 
8.Nitric Oxide and Peroxynitrite in Health and Disease,PÁL PACHER, JOSEPH 
S. BECKMAN, and LUCAS LIAUDET, Physiol Rev. 2007 Jan; 87(1): 315–424 
9.Endothelial dysfunction and vascular disease - a 30th anniversary update, 
Vanhoutte PM, Shimokawa H, Feletou M, Tang EH .,Acta Physiol (Oxf). 
2017 Jan;219(1):22-96. doi: 10.1111/apha.12646. Epub 2016 Jan 25
Bikramjit Konwar

Author: Bikramjit Konwar


6 Responses

  1. Yes nitric oxide has a lot of beneficial effect. It has been proven scientifically. A Nobel prize was awarded on nitric oxide biology.

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