What is Nitric Oxide? - Foods, Benefits & Side Effects

What is Nitric Oxide? - Foods, Benefits & Side Effects
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  • 0:01 Definition of Nitric Oxide
  • 2:09 Nitric Oxide Sources
  • 3:26 Nitric Oxide Side Effects
  • 4:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nissa Garcia

Nissa has a masters degree in chemistry and has taught high school science and college level chemistry.

Nitric oxide is not just an ordinary chemical compound. It is produced in our body and is present in some foods. Which foods are sources of nitric oxide and why is nitric oxide good for us? In this lesson, we will learn about nitric oxide.

Definition of Nitric Oxide

Nitric Oxide is a chemical compound that has a chemical formula of NO. It consists of one nitrogen (N) atom and one oxygen (O) atom. Its chemical structure is shown in this illustration.

Nitric oxide is a free radical, which is a group of atoms with unpaired electrons. In the chemical structure of nitric oxide, we can see that there is an unpaired electron present on the nitrogen atom.

It's a simple compound, but it plays a very important role in our bodies. Our bodies naturally produce nitric oxide, so what exactly is its purpose? Our bodies function properly because of neurotransmitters; these are chemicals from our brain that communicate information between our brain and our entire body. Nitric oxide serves as a neurotransmitter between nerve cells in our body, so it's involved in many physiological and pathological processes.

Besides being a neurotransmitter, having nitric oxide in our body has many other benefits. For instance, if you hate restless nights and want to have a restful sleep, nitric oxide is good for you because it helps improve your sleep quality. Nitric oxide also lowers our blood pressure levels and helps limit the formation of blood clots.

Blood flow is very important in our body because our muscles and tissues need to receive a healthy supply of oxygen and nutrients via blood circulation. Nitric oxide improves blood flow by widening our blood vessels. Because our muscles are able to get the nutrients they need, this results in better metabolism and recovery.

Do you like to work out so that you can work on getting that nice, lean muscle mass? Do you do a lot of cardio workouts or any other physical activities to improve your endurance? If you do, then nitric oxide is going to be helpful to you. There are supplements that you can take that can improve nitric oxide production in your body for better endurance and to increase our muscle mass. These supplements help improve blood flow to the tissues, so more oxygen and nutrients will be delivered to your muscles, which results in faster recovery for your muscles and less fatigue. Because of this, you get to do more physical activity, so you increase your muscle mass and build on your endurance.

Nitric Oxide Sources

Earlier, we discussed why nitric oxide is good for us. Now, let's talk about food and sources. Food does not actually contain nitric oxide, but it can contain nitrates, which our body can turn into nitric oxide. So, what foods can help increase our body's production of nitric oxide?

Let's start with fruits. If you like fruits like pomegranate, strawberries, and watermelons, then you'll help increase nitric oxide production in your body. Fruits that help our body to produce nitric oxide include oranges, watermelon, mango, and cranberries.

Beets, and dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, arugula, and lettuce are a good source of nitrates. The following are vegetables that help increase nitric oxide production: spinach, arugula, kale, and watercress.

Other foods and substances that can help us produce nitric oxide are pepper, tofu, and dark chocolate. They all have ingredients present in them that activate our body's nitric oxide production.

Some of us are into body building and improving our athletic performance. Besides the sources we mentioned earlier, there is the man-made alternative: supplements. These are not pure nitric oxide, but they contain arginine alpha-ketoglutarate (also known as AAKG and arginine), which helps our body improve nitric oxide production.

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