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Nitric Oxide for Cardiovascular Health

Curious about nitric oxide for cardiovascular health? We’ve heard the common heart-healthy tips:


  • Exercise often
  • Eat healthy foods
  • Avoid processed foods (especially those with transfats)


But according to research, one substance plays an essential role in our cardiovascular health: nitric oxide.


Let’s review what it is, how it works, and what that means for us.


What Is Nitric Oxide?


Nitric oxide is a molecule, which your body produces naturally. You can also raise nitric oxide levels in your body by consuming certain foods that are rich in nitrates. Some of these include:


  • Arugula (1)
  • Celery
  • Citrus fruits
  • Beets and beetroot (2)
  • Lettuce
  • Dark chocolate (3)
  • Spinach
  • Garlic (4)
  • Watermelon (5)


Nitric oxide plays a vital role in the body and impacts many processes. Most notably, it affects our cardiovascular health. Speaking of which, let’s see why.


Nitric Oxide’s Role In Your Cardiovascular System


Most of its benefits for us come from nitric oxide’s direct action: vasodilation. The molecule relaxes blood vessels, allowing them to widen, and lowering our blood pressure (6). As a direct benefit, our blood flows more freely, every area of the body gets oxygen and nutrients efficiently, and we reduce the strain on the heart. These effects improve our energy levels, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, and can even boost our athletic performance (7, 8).


Nitric oxide also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects on the body (9). The molecule counteracts reactive oxygen species, prevents oxidative stress, and can reduce the risk of disease. Researchers are still not entirely sure how these nitric oxide mechanisms affect the cardiovascular system, but there is a significant benefit.


Symptoms of Low Nitric Oxide Levels


When nitric oxide levels drop, all sorts of adverse effects take place in the body. Most notably, we experience the shrinking of blood vessels, which impair normal blood flow, increase blood pressure, and often increase resting heart rate (10). In combination with poor lifestyle habits, such as smoking and consuming trans fats, these effects lead to plaque build-up inside the arteries.


Research also shows that impaired vision can be another symptom of nitric oxide deficiency, especially if it occurs out of nowhere (11).


Other signs that you might need a nitric oxide boost include chronic fatigue and slower recovery times during exercise and between workouts. If you feel tired all the time despite eating well and sleeping enough, you might be low on nitric oxide. Similarly, if you struggle to recover on a training program you previously did with relative ease, it might be a symptom of deficiency.


In any case, a holistic approach will do best under such circumstances. Don’t limit yourself to nitric oxide alone.


How to Boost Your Nitric Oxide


The best way to boost (and maintain) your nitric oxide levels is to consume foods that are rich in nitrates. We shared a few recommendations above. 


Research suggests that consuming antioxidants can also help. Nitric oxide molecules have a relatively short life span, which means we need to replenish them regularly (12). Reactive oxygen species appear to contribute to the short life span of nitric oxide molecules, so by consuming antioxidants (such as those found in blueberries), you can counteract this effect (13).


Supplementing with nitric oxide boosters can also help. Among these substances, l-citrulline appears to help the most (5, 14, 15).