Nitric Oxide: Usage, Health Benefits & Side Effects

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Nitric Oxide (NO) is an essential component that keeps the body running like a well-oiled machine. In 1998, research into nitric oxide received a Nobel peace prize.

Since then there have been many studies geared towards exploring it. We were also curious about it and we bet you are too.

In this article, we will look at its functions in the body, benefits, side effects, and give you the bottom line.

What is Nitric Oxide?

Nitric Oxide is a chemical compound made from one part nitric and one part oxygen.

In the body, nitric oxide is a signaling molecule that regulates both cardiovascular and circulatory systems.

As a signaling molecule, Nitric oxide enables the brain cells and body organs to communicate. Nitric oxide is like traffic lights directing cars through a busy city road network.

To understand how Nitric Oxide works, let us first understand how it is made in the body.

Nitric Oxide is too unstable to exist as NO, the chemical compound, in the body so it exists as an enzyme called Nitric Oxide Synthase (NOS).  Nitric Oxide Synthase is found in the endothelial cells which are the cells that line up blood vessels.

Nitric Oxide is made in either one of two ways known as pathways. In the first pathway, the enzyme NOS converts an amino acid known as L- arginine into Nitric oxide, NO, through a series of complex reactions.

In the second pathway, Nitric Oxide is sourced from nitrous rich foods, mainly green leafy vegetables. The vegetables contain inorganic nitrate which is converted to nitrite and then to Nitric oxide by oral nitrite reducing bacteria present in the mouth.

In a nutshell, Nitric oxide facilitates physiological and pathological processes in the body by:

  • Regulating healthy blood flow
  • Regulating blood pressure
  • Determining how the body defends itself
  • Facilitating Communication between brain cells

Let us now take a look at how NO achieves all these functions.

How Does Nitric Oxide Work?

Nitric Oxide is credited with many health functions in the body. These functions are however pegged on its core function as a vasodilator.

In fact, nitric oxide has been dubbed the greatest discovery in cardiovascular medicine. The heart is our lifeline, but nitric oxide is the heart’s lifeline.

As a vasodilator, nitric acid relaxes blood vessels’ inner muscles increasing blood flow while reducing the pressure required to pump the blood. The efficiency in blood flow facilitates better oxygen and nutrient delivery to all tissues and organs in the body system.

Nitric oxide fulfills the following specific functions in various body organs and systems.

NO is produced in the endothelial cells and given its gaseous state it is able to sip into arterial muscles and;

  • Relax vascular muscles
  • Facilitate and maintain healthy blood pressure levels
  • Inhibit the aggregation of platelets
  • Dilate the arteries for healthy blood flow
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Reduce oxidative stress

Is Nitric Oxide Safe?

Nitric Oxide made in the body from the amino acid L-arginine and L-citrulline, or by oral bacteria is relatively safe. Due to various factors, nitric oxide production may be inhibited causing NO deficiency and the need to take NO supplements.

The most common cause of nitric oxide deficiency is age.  As we advance in age, the body produces up to 50% less nitric oxide than it does in our youth causing a deficiency.

Another cause is the lack of exercise. Physical exercise sends a signal to the body to produce more nitric oxide and when we don’t exercise, that signal is lost and less NO made.

Constant use of anti-bacterial mouth wash may also interfere with nitric oxide production. Antiseptic mouthwash may kill the nitrate-reducing bacteria that make NO from food reducing the amount of nitric oxide produced.

On the flip side, poor oral hygiene may also interfere with the second pathway. In such a case, harmful bacteria may also dominate the mouth and interfere with the nitrate-reducing bacteria.

Nitric oxide deficiency is a thing and there are plenty of supplements in the market targeting NO deficiency. The supplements mostly contain the amino acid L-arginine that is broken down into nitric oxide.

Like most supplements, nitric oxide supplements are relatively safe except for mild side effects like nausea and bloating. However, you have to do due diligence on specific brands and ingredients used by the manufacturer.

There are many anecdotal benefits linked to nitric oxide supplements. Take these with a grain of salt and consult your doctor prior to using any supplements.

Later on, we will look at the risks and precautions linked to nitric oxide in detail.

Health Benefits of Nitric Oxide

Health Benefits of Nitric Oxide

Nitric oxide’s cardiovascular function ensures the effective functioning of all other tissues, organs and body systems. Medical research credits Nitric Oxide with the following benefits to the body:

  • Improved exercise recovery- nitric oxide is believed to improve oxygen delivery to the muscles reducing post-workout soreness [1, 2].
  • It also cuts down recovery time post-exercise.
  • Nitric oxide supplements have been proven to lower blood pressure among pregnant women. This lowers the risk of preeclampsia [3,4]
  • Improved energy levels resulting from enhanced oxygenation, delivery of nutrients to organs, and removal of toxins
  • In the nervous system, NO increases cerebral blood flow and acts as a neurotransmitter. This  helps improve memory and behavior as it improves communication between nerve cells
  • In the renal system, it improves blood flow to the kidneys improving the filtration system and keeping your kidneys healthy
  • Nitric oxide supplements have been proven to help with erectile dysfunction by influencing the body to produce more nitric oxide. This is perhaps the most popular use with pills like Viagra containing NO. It relaxes the blood vessels allowing blood to flow in the penal area for longer [5,6].
  • It reduces inflammation- apart from having an anti-inflammatory effect, it is a signaling molecule in inflammatory pathogenesis
  • Improve immune responses- it is involved in many autoimmune processes enabling the body to respond to pathogens
  • People with type 2 diabetes have a problem producing nitric oxide [7]. This may lead to high blood pressure, kidney and heart diseases. Supplementing can help increase insulin sensitivity [8].

Users of nitric oxide supplements also allege other benefits that include:

  • Aiding with weight loss
  • Relieves air sickness
  • Preventing colds
  • Reducing memory loss side effects

Some of the claimed benefits have no medical research backing. Always consult a doctor before using nitric oxide supplements to achieve specific results.

Side Effects

Nitric oxide from food sources is vetted safe and good for the body. Nitric oxide supplements are also relatively safe to use.

But like with any other supplements, one might experience mild symptoms here and there. The most common symptoms according to users are:

  • Nausea
  • Bloating
  • Heartburn
  • Diarrhea [9]
  • Heart palpitations
  • Mild headaches

You may experience some or none of these symptoms because people react differently. Luckily these symptoms are short term, but should they persist seek medical advice.

Usage and Dosing Consideration

There is plenty of research on the importance of nitric oxide that justifies the use of NO supplements. However, there is no consensus on the dosage.

This is mainly because the supplements don’t contain NO but rather the amino acids L-arginine and L-citrulline. Synthesis of the amino acids to NO is influenced by various factors and may vary from person to person.

Nitric oxide supplements are available in tablet form, as shots, and even in a gaseous state. They can be taken by men, women, and children of various ages.

Since nitric oxide regulates different functions it would be ill-advised to take the supplements randomly. Consult a doctor so they can give you the right dosage and therapy duration for your condition.

Your medical history is also important because some health conditions do not work well with nitric oxide supplements. Follow the prescription on the supplements’ package or your doctor’s instructions.

There is also no best time to take nitric oxide supplements for the best results. However, some manufacturers suggest that if you are using the supplements as an energy booster, it is best to take them 30-60 minutes before an intense workout.

It is also not clear whether or not it is advisable to take nitric oxide supplements on an empty stomach. Ensure you seek clarification on all these pertinent issues from your doctor.

Risks and Precautions

As previously stated, nitric oxide supplements are quite safe and may only present mild short term effects. However, the supplements may be hazardous when taken alongside other medications and can cause long term effects.

To be on the safe side, do not take nitric oxide supplements under the following circumstances:

  • If you are on other nitrate-based medication, the level of NO in your body may rise beyond the optimum required levels. Of course, when there is too much of something, bad things happen.
  • If you have diabetes nitric oxide supplements may interfere with the working of your diabetes medicine.
  • If you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • If you have allergies the nitric oxide supplements may worsen the inflammation in your airway.
  • If you have liver disease or scarring it could possibly make things worse.
  • If you have herpes nitric oxide is believed to allow the herpes virus to thrive and multiply.
  • Nitric oxide shorts may have adverse side effects on children.
  • If you already have low blood pressure, nitric oxide supplements may lower it to a dangerous level.
  • If you have had a heart attack, NO supplements may trigger another one.
  • If you recently had or are about to have surgery, it may interfere with your blood pressure.
  • Check out for ingredients if you are vegan or vegetarian. This is because L-arginine and L-citrulline amino acids are mostly sourced from red meat.

Just to be safe declare your medical history to your doctor. They may offer alternative treatments such as lifestyle adjustments as opposed to taking nitric oxide supplements.

Check the ingredients on Nitric Oxide supplements packages, especially if you have allergies or a pre-existing condition. Be wary of proprietary blends.


Can I take Nitric Oxide every day?

The dosage and duration over which you take nitric oxide will depend on what your doctor prescribed

Can I take nitric oxide on an empty stomach?

There is no general instruction on how to take nitric oxide supplements. Consult your doctor or follow instructions on supplements’ package

When is the best time to take Nitric Oxide?

If you are taking NO supplements to improve your workout session then the best time is 30-60 minutes before the workout. Otherwise, consult your doctor

Is Nitric Oxide good for your skin?

It is not harmful, in fact, the skin synthesizes some nitric oxide. There are also some skin creams that are made with nitric oxide as a key ingredient

Can vitamin D hurt your kidneys?

If you have or had kidney disease nitric oxide supplements may interfere with the working of your meds or healing of your kidneys. Consult your doctor prior to taking any supplements in general

Is Nitric Oxide good for arthritis?

A higher level of nitric oxide has been recorded in patients with arthritis in some case studies. However, the real role of NO in arthritis pathogenesis is still under study.


Our bodies cannot function the way they should without nitric oxide. That is why it was once labeled a molecule of the year.

It is a core component of the cardiovascular system and the nervous system too.

Poor lifestyle choices like eating too much processed foods and not exercising are the main causes of nitric oxide deficiency.

Nitric oxide deficiency is a serious condition. Fortunately, it can be easily corrected with either nitric oxide supplements or lifestyle adjustments.

Nitric oxide supplements are relatively safe. But like with any other supplements things could go wrong.

Consult your doctor before opting for supplements because you may need something simpler like lifestyle adjustment.

Eating nitrous rich foods, exercising regularly, and maintaining good oral hygiene with a mild toothpaste could work. All these could help restore the body’s ability to produce more nitric oxide.

Nitrous rich foods are neither difficult to find nor to prepare. A lifestyle adjustment will do more for your overall health in the long run.




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