Red heart on wooden background.'n Health care concept.

Nitric Oxide: The Heart-Healthy Chemical In Your Blood

Lou Ignarro, Ph.D., Nobel* Laureate in Medicine, Member, Herbalife Nutrition Advisory Board and Herbalife Nutrition Institute | Herbalife Nutrition​ | February 15, 2018
February is American Heart Month, and people want to know how to improve their heart health. One factor is our body’s production of nitric oxide http://hrbl.me/2BO6AFlClick To Tweet

Nitric Oxide and a Healthy Heart

February has been dubbed American Heart Month. But most people want to know how they can maintain and improve heart health year-round. 

You may be convinced that a quick fix is just around the corner. Or that it’s simply a matter of eating better or exercising more or supplementing your diet with the right vitamins. Or that a good heart is built into your genetic code, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

The reality is that sustaining a healthy heart requires a comprehensive approach to what you eat and how you live. Nurture and nature have to work together to keep a person’s physiology intact.

But there’s actually another factor that too many of us know nothing about – and that all of us rely on, whether we realize it or not: our body’s production of nitric oxide.

 

What is Nitric Oxide?

It’s been called a “miracle molecule.” Yet few know what it is, what it does, or why it’s important. As someone who’s dedicated his career to studying this very topic, let me run through the basics.

Nitric oxide is what’s called a biological regulator; generated by our bodies to help our 50 trillion cells communicate with each other. The endothelial cells lining our arteries and veins produce nitric oxide, and designed to protect our cardiovascular system against damage and aging.

The folks with the highest amounts of nitric oxide are babies and children, but these levels decline over time. And on average, nitric oxide is higher in women until menopause, which is one key reason why females usually enjoy better cardiovascular health in their youth.

So even if you don’t know its name, nitric oxide is working for you, as it always has. The question is whether each of us will do our parts to boost nitric oxide in our systems and, in turn, protect our hearts.

 

How Does Nitric Oxide Benefit Heart Health?

Nitric oxide helps the body support the health of heart and blood vessels. It keeps the cardiovascular system flexible. It plays a vital role in such areas as regulating vasodilatation, blood flow, and platelet function.

What’s more, boosting nitric oxide can help prevent sudden coronary conditions. As it turns out, these challenges are caused by more than poor cholesterol levels, a lack of physical activity, obesity, or smoking.

All of those factors are pieces of the puzzle, of course. But more and more, medical professionals are looking for answers in endothelium, the thin lining of our arteries that produces nitric oxide. When this layer of cells shrinks, our blood circulation decreases, our arteries harden, and our bodies become more susceptible to some of the biggest killers in our society – heart attacks, high blood pressure, and strokes.

What this means is, if you take care of your nitric oxide, it will take care of you – and it may very well extend your life expectancy.

 

Aging and Nitric Oxide Production

Once any of us surpass our 20s, we start to complain of new aches and pains that didn’t seem to bother us before. We see our metabolism slow down considerably. We can’t shed pounds or maintain our weight as easily, and we seem to have to work harder to stay on-track with our diets and exercise regimens.

If you’re over 30 years of age and you feel this way, you’re not alone. But it’s not attributable to simple and clichéd concerns about becoming “over the hill.” Because once you’ve lived for 3 decades, the amount of nitric oxide produced by your body begins to shrink. That reduced generation of nitric oxide, in turn, has an adverse impact on your cardiovascular outcomes.

In short, this means that, as you age, it becomes increasingly necessary to find ways to boost the production of nitric oxide and to sustain it at the highest possible levels.

 

How Can We Boost and Sustain Nitric Oxide?

So now that we understand nitric oxide, its vital role to our health, and the fundamentals of how it works, we’ve reached the ultimate question: what can be done to increase and sustain nitric oxide in our systems and, as a result, better protect our hearts in the future?

Here I’ll reiterate a few pointers and ideas:

 Eat balanced meals so that you ingest the right mix of vitamins, minerals, and acids, and take dietary supplements that boost your nitric oxide production.

Plan ahead and eat healthy meals to help keep you in a good nutritional state, maintain appropriate weight, and prevent excessive intake of calories.

Eat high-quality protein, which contains an abundance of amino acids that promote the production of nitric oxide. Soy protein is an especially good choice, since it does not have any unhealthy saturated fats.

Take in unsaturated Omega 3 fatty acids, which are found in fresh fish of many kinds, which support vascular health, and which are known to increase the production of nitric oxide in your arteries.

Engage in physical activity on a regular basis. Your production of nitric oxide increases dramatically as you engage in physical exercise at any level, whether it is walking, running, cycling, swimming, or just climbing stairs. Combine the effect on nitric oxide with a reduction of calories in your system, and you’ll also be better able to maintain a proper weight.

Here’s the bottom line: nitric oxide is a vital molecule in your body and essential to your cardiovascular health. It is a component everyone needs, regardless of age or gender. And if you build a healthy lifestyle that provides enough nitric oxide, you lead a happier, longer, heart-healthier life.

 

 

 

 

**The Nobel Foundation has no affiliation with Herbalife and does not review, approve or endorse Herbalife® products.