Nitric Oxide, The Fulcrum of Life

February 05, 2023

Nitric Oxide - The Fulcrum of Life

A fulcrum is something on which a process pivots. Ah! That's how important NO is. All three theories of aging, stem cell collapse, oxidation, telomere shortening all pivot on the fulcrum of NO and are actuated and prevented with sufficient NO. NO is so important, that mother's breast milk has more Nitrites and Nitrates (the precursors for NO) in it than any other food, and supplies way over WHO recommendations of consumption for safe health. That's how misunderstood Nitric oxide is. Hence this series on NO. First, we need to debunk its "danger". So, today we just learn what it is. I want to know this.

First of all, what is it? NO is a gas. It is an unstable molecule with an extra electron to give away. That make's it a free radical. But this is the definition of a good free radical. Don't confuse NO with nitrous oxide (N2O, an anesthetic gas) or nitrogen dioxide (NO2, a major dangerous environmental poison). It was named "Molecule of the Year" in 1992 and provided the reason for the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1998 for the role it plays in vascular health.

Nitric oxide plays a huge role in blood flow. In fact, it has been argued that the delivery of oxygen to tissue is more dependent on nitric oxide levels and blood flow than on oxygen concentration. Levels of nitric oxide predict an athlete's ability to perform more accurately than any other indicator (presuming the same amount of training and hard work!). Levels of nitric oxide predict recovery from a heart attack, blood pressure, stroke, Alzheimer's.

And that's the conundrum. Our ability to make NO declines with aging by about 12% a decade. Hence if you are 60 years old, you only have 30% of the capacity you had as an infant. Without the soothing effect of NO on your vascular tree, you are going to have coronary artery disease. Guess what else won't work? Correct. There is a very high degree of correlation between erectile difficulty and coronary artery disease..... and low nitric oxide.

Here is the nugget of how we make it. There is a nitrogen cycle in nature with atmospheric nitrogen that is oxidized by lightning into nitrates that plants can then use. There is also a nitrogen cycle in humans. It goes as follows. First, we eat nitrates and nitrites from vegetables, mostly green leafy ones. The bacteria in the crypts at the back of our tongues reduce it to nitrites. In our acidic stomach, at least below pH 4, nitrite gets changed into the gas NO. The remaining nitrates are absorbed by the gut into the blood and return, in large quantities to our salivary glands. With our salivary as the main repository of nitrates, we then make saliva and the bacteria in the back of our tongues do their job, reducing nitrate to nitrite. We swallow and our saliva proceeds to our stomach where we make the final end product, NO.

Then, there is a second pathway that makes NO through the breakdown of arginine. That pathway feeds into the nitrogen cycle as well. Curiously, the effort to make more NO through arginine supplementation has not been a resounding success.

Guess what happens when you take mouthwash? Yup. You kill the bacteria in your crypts and your NO goes down and within a week, your blood pressure rises.

Guess what happens when you take PPIs, the most prescribed medication in the world, and make the pH of your stomach neutral with no acid? Yup. In the next three years, your risk of heart attack rises some 20%. Makes sense to be on a PPI and a statin all at the same time, huh!

www.What will Work for me. I'm just learning this. I've seen the pathways for aging that all have NO and the various enzymes that are activated by in cellular oxidation or telomere shortening. But this ideas is boots on the ground in everyday life. I ordered an NO test kit for myself and sure enough, my level was modestly low. So, I ordered Beet Root extract, took two pills and two hours later, sure enough, my level was much higher. My mouthwash just got pitched. I suspect NO and its levels will become one of the most important markers of good health we can follow. And you can test yours at home, cheaply. One minute. And now I understand why the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet work. They both emphasize lots of leafy, green vegetables, the type that makes more NO. And it has been measured and proven to be the case with both.

References: Wikipedia, The Nitric Oxide Solution, Blood Pressure, PLOS One, Nutrition & Metabolism, Nature Reports,

Pop Quiz

1. What is Nitric Oxide?                 Answer: A gas containing one Nitrogen and one Oxygen.

2. What does it do chemically?                   Answer: It is an electron donor.

3. What role does NO play in aging?                 Answer: All three processes of aging have NO as the key instigator/modulator. (Oxidation, telomere shortening, stem cell fatigue)

4. What happens to our NO levels as we progress through the decades?                    Answer: We lose about 12% per decade. By age 40, we are down 50%.

5. What happens when you carefully rinse your mouth with bacteria killing wash after you floss?      Answer: You successfully kill all the bacteria on your tongue that are helping you make NO. Your blood pressure will rise over the course of the next week. We suspect that same effect happens everytime you take antibiotics for anything. And did you catch that last paragraph above about PPIs?