Nitric oxide is a chemical compound found both in the environment and in living organisms. While this compound acts as an environmental pollutant in its gaseous form, in the bodies of human beings and animals, the compound has been found to provide multiple benefits that may help keep us and our bodies going.
Although we can naturally produce the compound, sometimes eating certain foods can promote our bodies to make more of it, which may be beneficial in certain ways. This is where nitric oxide foods come in. In this article we are not only going give you a list of foods which promote nitric oxide production, but we shall also outline some nitric oxide benefits, signs of a deficiency of this compound, and much more.
What Is Nitric Oxide?
Also known as nitrogen monoxide, nitric oxide (NO) is a colorless gas formed through the chemical reaction caused by mixing nitrogen and oxygen (16, 15).
As stated above, while out in the environment, nitric monoxide is considered as an environmental pollutant – specifically through air pollution and the destruction of the ozone layer. Research has found that, when released in the air, nitric oxide reacts with oxygen and ozone to form nitrogen dioxide (NO2) , a brown gas that causes environmental pollution.
This is not the only way that this environmental polluting gas is formed, however. When you mix air and a hydrocarbon fuel in an internal-combustion engine or a power plant, the ordinarily dormant nitrogen in the air combines with oxygen at very high temperatures and forms nitric oxide. Once this nitric oxide (formed by nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbon vapors) is released back into the air, it goes through other chemical reactions and can eventually lead to photochemical smog – which has been linked to a depletion of the ozone layer and upper atmosphere – and acid rain.
Despite this gas having such drastic effects to the air and environment, its effects within the human body and in medicine are very different.
In human beings, nitric oxide is mainly produced in the endothelium – a thin membrane that lines the inside of the heart and blood vessels – as well as in other cells. It is then used as a signaling molecule which can influence multiple functions that range from circulation, immunity, as well as lung, nervous system, gastrointestinal activity, and much more.
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Benefits Of Nitric Oxide In The Body
Before trying to find out the answer to ‘which food has the most nitric oxide?’, we must first understand how this compound benefits our bodies. Some possible nitric oxide benefits include
May Help Treat, Manage, And Reduce Erectile Dysfunction
This is probably the biggest reason why many men suffering from ED might start reaching for nitrate rich foods at their local supermarket or grocery store.
Erectile dysfunction has many causes ranging from type 2 diabetes, heart disease, injury to the penis, spinal cord, prostate, bladder, or pelvis, high blood pressure, blocked blood vessels, chronic kidney disease, multiple sclerosis, Peyronie’s disease, and atherosclerosis.
If the erectile dysfunction is due to blocked blood vessels, consuming nitric oxide foods to help boost the production of this chemical compound in his body could help him achieve or maintain a hard enough erection for sex – an idea that has been backed by several studies (7, 20, 30, 22).
These studies show that nitric oxide (NO) helps dilate and relax muscles and blood vessels, which in turn promotes blood circulation within the body. In relation to ED, this compound may
- Relax blood vessels, improving blood circulation making it easier for blood to flow to the penis
- Help the muscles of the penis to relax. This releases pressure from the organs’ blood vessels allowing blood to flow to the organ.
These two factors combined could help a man with erectile dysfunction not only achieve an erection, but maintain it for however long he needs to – or at least longer than he normally does.
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Improved Heart Health
According to the World Health Organization, heart disease is the number one cause of deaths worldwide, above even cancer. While nitric oxide cannot help prevent all kinds of cardiovascular illnesses, it has been shown to be beneficial and preventative in some ways.
A review published in 2005 by the Molecular Aspects of Medicine journal stated that this compound is especially important when it comes to dealing with endothelial dysfunction – a type of non-obstructive coronary artery disease (CAD) in which there are no heart artery blockages, but a narrowing of the large blood vessels on the heart’s surface instead of a dilating (opening) which makes it harder for the heart to pump blood.
As previously seen, dilation of muscles and blood vessels is one of the top functions and benefits of nitric oxide. The review also stated that this compound may offer more heart protective benefits like the regulation of blood pressure and vascular tone, inhibition of platelet aggregation (the clumping of platelets which cause blood clots) and leukocyte adhesion (which is involved in plaque formation), and prevention smooth muscle cell proliferation (29).
Another study done on rabbits and rats found that using a nitric oxide booster supplement also may offer some heart benefits. Researchers on this animal study stated that these supplements may help reduce arterial stiffness, reduce blood pressure, and improve carotid artery blood flow (23).
Further studies published by the American Heart Association support the above mentioned protective benefits of NO and also add that the compound in question may also help promote the formation of new blood vessels and prevent the thickening or hardening of arteries (18).
Improved Athletic Performance
Research shows that nitric oxide may boost athletic performance through vasodilatation, blood flow, and mitochondrial respiration (19).
- Vasodilation helps your muscles get the blood flow and energy they need to keep working
- Improved blood flow helps supply more oxygen to your whole body and especially to your muscles which helps push your exercise
- Mitochondrial respiration is a process that uses the oxygen circulating in your system to convert macronutrients to adenosine triphosphate (ATP) – aka the energy you use to workout.
Another study done on mice and published by the Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology (Tokyo), also revealed that giving a nitric oxide booster to the lab mice helped increase their swimming time, something that the researchers equated to increased performance (11).
Also known as delayed onset muscle soreness, DOMS is a specific type of muscle soreness/pain experienced by people who workout (pros and beginners alike) that begins a day or two after working out. Symptoms of DOMS can range anywhere from mild muscle soreness and stiffness to severe debilitating pain (6).
In 2010, a study published by The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that taking nitric oxide related supplements can help reduce the likelihood of DOMS by up to 40 percent. The participants in this study were given citrulline malate – a dietary amino acid known to help increase the production of NO in the body (4).
A review article published two years later by Sport Medicine suggested that the use of nitric oxide related supplements for exercise may improve tolerance to exercise, especially in beginners or moderately trained individuals. (27). They did also point out that nearly all the studies on NO-related supplements for exercise performance to that point had been done on young men.
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May Help Manage Type 2 Diabetes
According to a 2001 study, taking nitric oxide related supplements, specifically L-arginine, helps increase the production of this compound. This compound may then go on to increase insulin sensitivity and improve blood sugar control (13).
Another study published more than 10 years later in 2012 by the journal of Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism also showed that while these nitric oxide boosters may not prevent the development of this disease, they may increase insulin sensitivity and improve blood sugar control – which is incredibly beneficial for those already living and dealing with Type 2 diabetes (9).
What Food Has The Most Nitric Oxide?
Here are some of the best foods to help boost NO production in your body:
- Beetroot – Not only are beets good for improving cognitive function, lowering blood pressure levels and improving athletic performance, but they are a great way to boost this compound. One study published in 2018 revealed that taking beet juice can increase your body’s nitric oxide production by 21 percent in just 45 minutes (1).
- Garlic – Popular in many Asian dishes due to its incredible flavor, garlic is also full of nitrates which makes it a sure thing on this list. Studies have shown that this vegetable may not only boost nitric oxide levels by activating nitric oxide synthase of L-arginine, but it may also help maximize the amount of nitric oxide that is produced by endothelial cells (24, 2).
- Meats – Different types of meats, specifically organ meats, fatty fish, beef, chicken and pork are said to have high concentrations of coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10. According to one review, coenzyme Q10 may help preserve nitric oxide in the body (5).
- Leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables – According to WebMD, vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, mustard greens, bok choy, and spinach are excellent sources of nitrates. Other vegetables like carrots and eggplants are also great nitrate sources.
- Citrus Fruits – Like garlic, citrus fruits do not provide your body with nitrates but they may help maximize your body’s natural production of NO (8, 14). Be sure to stock up on oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit.
- Nuts and seeds – They contain high levels of arginine, an amino acid necessary for the production of nitric oxide. One study done on over 2700 people found that consuming more arginine-rich foods lead to higher levels of nitric oxide in the blood (26).
Other nitric oxide boosting foods and drinks include red wine, pomegranate, dark chocolate, and watermelon (10, 28, 31, 25).
Ps. Be sure to avoid fatty high cholesterol foods as not only are they not good for your heart, weight and overall health, but they are also classified as foods that decrease nitric oxide levels in the body.
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What Drinks Are High In Nitric Oxide?
Drinks that have a high amount of nitrates are those made from high nitric oxide foods. If you find drinking your nitrates easier than eating them, then we suggest finding smoothie or juice recipes that require these foods as ingredients.
Some examples of drinks which may boost in nitric oxide include
- Beetroot juice
- Watermelon and orange juice
- Pomegranate and spinach smoothie (add some protein powder, avocado, and milk of choice)
What Is The Fastest Way To Increase Nitric Oxide?
If you have low nitric oxide in your body, the quickest way to increase these levels would be through your diet. Adding any (or all the above mentioned nitric oxide foods to your weekly meal plan is a sure fire way to build up the NO levels in your system.
You can also start exercising if you don’t already, as exercise itself can boost NO production in the body (19).
Another option that you could go for is getting a nitric oxide booster. The two most common options are either L-citrulline – an amino acid found in meat, nuts, legumes, and watermelon – or L-arginine – an amino acid naturally found in red meat, dairy products, poultry, and fish.
However, because supplements are not regulated by the FDA, it can be hard to determine if they actually do as stated on the bottle, thus instead of purchasing a booster, we suggest simply supplementing your diet with nitrate rich foods.
What Are The Symptoms Of Low Nitric Oxide?
Some symptoms of nitric oxide deficiency include (3)
- Memory Issues – Nitric oxide is a neurotransmitter that has a role in a variety of neuronal functions including learning and memory processing. If you start noting that you aren’t able to learn things as fast as before or come up with solutions to things as easily as before, talk to your doctor about adding some foods high in nitric oxide to your diet to see if this reverses the problem (12).
- High Blood Pressure – As mentioned in the ‘benefits’ section above, NO plays a huge role in the prevention and progression of heart disease, mostly due to the dilation of muscles and blood vessels. While heart disease could be caused by a multitude of factors, adding some nitric oxide booster foods to your diet as a way to manage or prevent this issue couldn’t hurt. An older animal study published in 1996, also saw that a deficiency of this compound lead to hypertension (17).
- Kidney Disease – In both humans and animals, a deficiency of this compound has been shown to contribute to the further progression of kidney damage (17, 21).
- Low stamina – One of the many functions of this compound is transporting nutrients and oxygen throughout the body. If you have been feeling oddly tired and sleepy of late and cannot figure out what the problem could be, try some nitric oxide rich foods and see if this makes a difference.
- Erectile Dysfunction – As mentioned earlier, one of the causes of ED is the blockage of blood vessels in the penis which prevents enough blood from getting to the organ to successfully achieve or maintain an erection. If your issue with ED started recently – and you are not too stressed – the muscles and blood vessels in your penis could be the issue. Some NO boosting foods might help relax these blood vessels and muscles, helping you achieve and maintain an erection.
The Bottom Line
Nitric oxide foods are a great way to not only boost your body’s production of this compound, but also its ability to use it. These foods -by themselves – also offer different benefits (like antioxidants) that can help prevent major illnesses like heart disease, blood pressure and other cardiovascular illnesses, cognitive decline and more. The compound itself (NO) may also be helpful for battling against heart disease, erectile dysfunction, improving athletic performance and much more.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Acute ingestion of beetroot juice increases exhaled nitric oxide in healthy individuals (2018, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Aged garlic extract restores nitric oxide bioavailability in cultured human endothelial cells even under conditions of homocysteine elevation (2013, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Best nitric oxide supplement (2021, kdvr.com)
- Citrulline malate enhances athletic anaerobic performance and relieves muscle soreness (2010, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Coenzyme Q10 Therapy (2014, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Delayed onset muscle soreness : treatment strategies and performance factors (2003, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Development and therapeutic applications of nitric oxide releasing materials to treat erectile dysfunction (2005, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Does vitamin C enhance nitric oxide bioavailability in a tetrahydrobiopterin-dependent manner? In vitro, in vivo and clinical studies (2014, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Effect of a long-term oral l-arginine supplementation on glucose metabolism: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial (2012, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Effect of dark chocolate on nitric oxide serum levels and blood pressure in prehypertension subjects (2011, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Effects of citrulline supplementation on fatigue and exercise performance in mice (2011, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Involvement of nitric oxide in learning & memory processes (2011, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Long-Term Oral l-Arginine Administration Improves Peripheral and Hepatic Insulin Sensitivity in Type 2 Diabetic Patients (2001, diabetesjournals.org)
- Long-term vitamin C treatment increases vascular tetrahydrobiopterin levels and nitric oxide synthase activity (2003, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Nitric oxide (2020, dermnetnz.org)
- nitric oxide (n.d., britannica.com)
- Nitric oxide and blood pressure: effects of nitric oxide deficiency (1996, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Nitric Oxide and Cardiovascular Regulation (2017, ahajournals.org)
- Nitric oxide and its role in exercise physiology (2021, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Nitric oxide and penile erection: Is erectile dysfunction another manifestation of vascular disease? (1999, academic.oup.com)
- Nitric oxide deficiency in chronic kidney disease (2008, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Novel nitric oxide signaling mechanisms regulate the erectile response (2004, nature.com)
- Oral supplementation with a combination of l-citrulline and l-arginine rapidly increases plasma l-arginine concentration and enhances NO bioavailability (2014, sciencedirect.com)
- Potent activation of nitric oxide synthase by garlic: a basis for its therapeutic applications (1995, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Red wine polyphenols enhance endothelial nitric oxide synthase expression and subsequent nitric oxide release from endothelial cells (2002, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The Association of Dietary l-Arginine Intake and Serum Nitric Oxide Metabolites in Adults: A Population-Based Study (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The Effect of Nitric-Oxide-Related Supplements on Human Performance (2012, link.springer.com)
- The influence of pomegranate fruit extract in comparison to regular pomegranate juice and seed oil on nitric oxide and arterial function in obese Zucker rats (2007, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The role of nitric oxide in cardiovascular diseases (2005, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The role of nitric oxide in penile erection (2001, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Two weeks of watermelon juice supplementation improves nitric oxide bioavailability but not endurance exercise performance in humans (2016, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)