Nitric oxide is a compound of one nitrogen atom and one oxygen atom that plays a vital role in the body. You may be able to increase your level of nitric oxide by eating certain foods, including vegetables high in nitrates and antioxidants.
Nitric oxide is a molecule that’s produced naturally by your body, and it’s important for many aspects of your health.
Its most important function is vasodilation, meaning it relaxes the inner muscles of the blood vessels, causing them to widen and increase circulation.
Nitric oxide production is essential for overall health because it allows blood, nutrients, and oxygen to travel to every part of your body effectively and efficiently.
Fortunately, there are many ways to maintain optimal levels of nitric oxide in your body.
Here are the top 5 ways to increase nitric oxide naturally.
Nitrate, a compound found in certain vegetables, is one of the many reasons vegetables are healthy for you.
Vegetables high in nitrate include (
When these foods are consumed, nitrates are converted into nitric oxide, which confers a wide range of health benefits related to heart health and exercise performance.
Despite the effects that nitrates have on nitric oxide production in your body, some people avoid them for fear they are harmful and contribute to cancer.
This is likely because sodium nitrates are commonly used as a preservative and color fixative in bacon, cold cuts, and hot dogs.
Nitrates can form N-nitroso compounds, such as nitrosamine, which are capable of causing cancer.
Nitric oxide is an unstable molecule that degrades quickly in the bloodstream, so it must be constantly replenished (16).
One way to increase its stability and limit its breakdown is by consuming antioxidants.
Antioxidants are molecules that neutralize free radicals, which contribute to the short life of nitric oxide (
These antioxidants are found in all foods but primarily those of plant origin, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains.
A few important antioxidants include:
- Vitamin C: This antioxidant helps your body form connective tissues, including skin, bones, tendons, and cartilage. It also produces brain chemicals that help nerve cells communicate (
- Vitamin E: This antioxidant protects cells from the damaging effects of free radicals, which are thought to contribute to aging and disease. It also plays an important role in keeping the immune system strong (
- Polyphenols: This category of antioxidants is associated with several health benefits, including a reduced risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease (
- Glutathione: Coined “the mother of all antioxidants,” glutathione is the main antioxidant and detoxifier of every cell in your body (
Several studies have found that ingesting nitric oxide precursors, such as nitrate or citrulline, with antioxidants maintain greater levels of nitric oxide in your body by helping reduce its breakdown (
Vegetables that are high in nitrate are also inherently high in antioxidants, which is likely why vegetables are so effective at increasing and maintaining optimal levels of nitric oxide (
Several dietary supplements are marketed as “nitric oxide boosters.”
These supplements don’t contain nitric oxide itself, but they include ingredients that help form nitric oxide in your body.
Keep in mind that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate supplements.
It directly produces nitric oxide through a process called the L-arginine-NO pathway.
Several studies support the use of L-arginine for increased blood flow, but only in certain populations.
L-citrulline is a dispensable amino acid, meaning your body can make all it needs.
When L-arginine is converted to nitric oxide, L-citrulline is produced as a byproduct (
L-citrulline can then be recycled back to L-arginine and used to increase your body’s natural production of nitric oxide.
In fact, L-citrulline increases levels of L-arginine in your body more than supplementing with L-arginine itself does. This is because a large percentage of L-arginine is broken down before reaching your bloodstream (
L-citrulline is considered relatively safe, and there is a low risk of side effects, even with high doses (
Mouthwash destroys bacteria in your mouth that can contribute to the growth of cavities and other dental diseases.
Unfortunately, mouthwash kills all types of bacteria, including the beneficial ones that help produce nitric oxide.
Special bacteria in the mouth convert nitrate to nitric oxide. Humans cannot produce nitric oxide from nitrate without these bacteria (
The detrimental effects of mouthwash on nitric oxide production may even contribute to the development of diabetes, which is characterized by malfunctions in insulin production or action.
This is because nitric oxide also regulates insulin, which helps cells utilize the energy obtained from food after it’s digested. Without nitric oxide, insulin cannot work properly.
One study found that people who used mouthwash at least twice daily were 49% more likely to develop diabetes than those who never used mouthwash (
Therefore, to maintain adequate nitric oxide production, it’s best to use mouthwash sparingly.
Exercise really does get your blood pumping, largely because it improves endothelial function.
Endothelium refers to the thin layer of cells that line the blood vessels. These cells produce nitric oxide, which keeps blood vessels healthy.
Exercise keeps your endothelial cells and blood vessels healthy by increasing your body’s natural ability to produce nitric oxide.
For optimal results, combine aerobic training, such as walking or jogging, with anaerobic training, such as resistance training. The types of exercise you choose should be things you enjoy and can do long term.
Finally, speak with your doctor to determine any limitations you may have in regard to exercise.
Nitric oxide is an essential molecule required for overall health. As a vasodilator, nitric oxide signals the blood vessels to relax, allowing them to expand.
This effect allows blood, nutrients, and oxygen to flow freely to every part of your body. But when nitric oxide production is decreased, your health can become compromised.
Therefore, it’s important to achieve and maintain optimal levels of nitric oxide in your body.
A diet high in nitrate-rich vegetables and antioxidants or the use of supplements, such as L-arginine or L-citrulline, are beneficial ways to boost your body’s natural production of nitric oxide. Other proven strategies include limiting mouthwash and exercising regularly.
For optimal nitric oxide production, increase your intake of nitrate-rich vegetables and exercise at least 30 minutes per day.