By now you are probably aware that nitric oxide (NO) is a tiny molecule with a big job: to signal blood vessel muscle cells to relax, allowing blood pressure to ease back to normal. High blood pressure (hypertension) is one of the most dangerous—and common—risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke. So anything that helps us maintain a healthy, normal blood pressure is extremely desirable.
NO is so important, the body has evolved two separate pathways by which to generate a steady supply. One depends on an adequate supply of the amino acid, L-arginine. The second makes use of dietary nitrates; compounds found in a variety of whole plant foods, such as spinach, raw beets, and others. People who fail to consume adequate amounts of healthful foods, such as beets, spinach, arugula, cabbage, etc., may suffer from a deficiency in dietary nitrates, essentially robbing themselves of the raw materials their bodies need to generate NO and regulate blood pressure.
In addition to prompting blood vessels to relax, expand, and promote greater blood flow, NO also affects the behavior of blood components called platelets. It makes them less sticky. This in turn makes them less likely to clump together and form a blood clot. Blood clots are at the root of most heart attacks and incidences of stroke, so discouraging this excess platelet “stickiness” is also highly desirable. Furthermore, adequate NO plays a role in promoting the health and flexibility of the delicate tissue, called the endothelium, which lines the interior of our blood vessels.
NO Falls as Age Increases
Natural NO production tends to drop off as aging progresses. That’s why it may be especially important for older people to boost their intake of nitrate-rich foods, such as raw beets, spinach and other key nutrients. Increasing your daily exercise and losing weight may also help.
Common symptoms that may indicate NO deficiency include: insomnia, high blood pressure, anxiety, loss of libido/and/or erectile dysfunction, flagging stamina, etc. So how do you assess your own NO status? One way is to check your saliva. Using handy test strips, it’s possible to get a snapshot of your present saliva NO status.