Scientists have performed several clinical trials concerning the effectiveness of nitric oxide supplements, most of which gave mixed results. In this article, we will examine nitric oxide’s working mechanism in the body and some of the most commonly reported benefits and risks of supplementing with it.
What is nitric oxide ?
Nitric oxide is a naturally occurring molecule in your body that causes your blood vessels to become wider and triggers the release of certain hormones, such as human growth hormone and insulin. Nitric oxide supplements are a type of supplements that include L-arginine and L-citrulline.
Nitric oxide production is essential for overall health because it allows blood, nutrients and oxygen to travel to every part of your body effectively and efficiently.
How do nitric oxide supplements work ?
Nitric oxide supplements can widen or relax blood vessels. As mentioned earlier, the two most common are L-citrulline and L-arginine. L-citrulline is an amino acid (the building blocks of protein) found in nuts, meat, legumes, and melons. When sold as a supplement, it can mostly be found packaged as a powder or a pill. L-arginine is also an amino acid, naturally occurring in all kinds of dairy products, red meat, fish, and poultry. As a supplement, it can be bought in the form of a pill, cream, or powder.
A person, through their diet, typically consumes around 5 grams of L-arginine a day. The body converts the amino acid into nitric oxide which is then used in various body functions. Scientists think that nitric oxide relaxes and makes your blood vessels wider and improve blood flow in the body.
Lots of people believe that supplementing with nitric oxide will improve blood flow which in turn will improve performance in various physical activities, enhance heart health, promote healing and provide the body with many other health benefits. Even though there are lots of potential benefits and uses for nitric oxide supplements, there aren’t a lot of studies done actually, and below you’ll find the researched benefits.
Health benefits of nitric oxide supplements
Below is a list of potential benefits of supplementing with nitric oxide:
Improved heart health
Many studies have found that taking nitric oxide supplements provide several heart health-boosting effects. These include reducing blood pressure and stiffness in the arteries, as well as improving blood flow in the carotid artery. It’s important to note, however, that scientists were doing these studies on animals, not humans.
Enhancing physical performance and recovery
Scientists think that supplementing with nitric oxide could enhance oxygen delivery to the muscles. This could have the great potential of improving physical performance and decrease muscle soreness after an intense workout. Studies have also shown that nitric oxide supplementation may enhance pain tolerance. However, it was found that this only applied to people who didn’t exercise regularly or only at a moderate rate. Also, there were no conclusive results that nitric oxide supplementation can improve elite athletes’ performance. Scientists did the studies with young male participants, so they don’t know how said supplementation may affect females or older people overall.
Reducing er*ctile dysfunction
Since nitric oxide supplements improve blood flow, scientists have done studies to see if it could improve blood flow for men suffering from er*ctile dysfunction. Several studies have shown that nitric oxide supplementation may indeed reduce er*ctile dysfunction in those men who have mild to moderate symptoms.
Reducing high blood pressure during pregnancy
Pre-eclampsia is a disorder happening during pregnancy that is characterized by high blood pressure. It can be dangerous for both the mother and the baby. A 2005 study found that pregnant women who were taking L-arginine supplements for a prolonged period had lower blood pressure compared to pregnant women who didn’t take it. Even though scientists need to do more studies for more conclusive results, the ones so far look promising for women experiencing high blood pressure during pregnancy.
The above are several examples of more extensive research examining the effectiveness of nitric oxide supplements. However, no studies have been made which would establish the supplement dose people should take to get the same results as the study subjects did.
Other reported benefits
People can take nitric oxide supplements for various reasons, many of which don’t have any scientific research to back them up. However the ones that can be considered to have some scientific support include:
- Helping weight loss
- Improving lung function in people suffering from cystic fibrosis
- Treating symptoms of altitude sickness
- Improving recovery after major injury or trauma
- Preventing common cold
- Decreasing the side effects of loss of memory
- Healing foot ulcers caused by diabetes
It should be noted, however, that the majority of these benefits are anecdotal, which means that people might have reported some benefit, but there should be more research done to confirm them.
Potential Side Effects of Nitric Oxide Supplements
If you decide to take a nitric oxide supplement you should first consult with your doctor if you’re taking any medications and how the said supplement may interact with them. For the majority of people, these supplements don’t cause any known side effects. When they do occur, they’re often not that dangerous and may include:
- Bloating, stomach pain, or heartburn
- Heart palpitations
Some people, however, shouldn’t take nitric oxide supplements because of the risk of potentially dangerous side effects. These are people with:
Cirrhosis: People who have cirrhosis, or liver scarring, should be very cautious when taking nitric oxide supplements since it could worsen their liver function.
Guanidinoacetate methyltransferase deficiency: This is a very rare genetic disorder where the individual lacks an enzyme that converts arginine into creatine, which is a waste product. For this reason, people who have this deficiency shouldn’t take nitric oxide supplements.
Low blood pressure: If the individual has low blood pressure, they shouldn’t take nitric oxide supplements because of the risk that it might lower it even further. Doctors also recommend that anyone taking these supplements stop before undergoing surgery.
Scientists believe that there some other conditions in which nitric oxide supplementation could worsen. These include herpes, kidney disease, and after one has had a heart attack. One study found that those who take L-arginine after a heart attack had a higher chance of dying, experiencing another heart attack, and being hospitalized compared to people who didn’t take L-arginine.
It’s important to note that this article doesn’t give a comprehensive list of all the potential situations where an individual shouldn’t take nitric oxide supplements. They may interfere with various types of medications, such as those for high blood pressure or diabetes. That’s why it is crucial that you always consult with your doctor if you decide to use one, and make sure that they won’t interfere with any existing conditions you might have or medications you’re taking.
Nitric oxide supplements have been around for decades, but doctors were reluctant to recommend them since there’s not enough scientific evidence to support their use for specific health benefits. They prefer to recommend certain modifications in their patients’ lifestyles instead of medications that scientists have already proven to treat or cure specific medical conditions effectively.
These supplements are not known to cause many side effects in the majority of people, so lots of them give them a try. Again, it is highly recommended that anyone who decides to take them makes sure they don’t have any existing medical condition which nitric oxide could worsen. Everyone should first consult with their doctor before taking such a supplement, or any other for that matter, to ensure they’re making a safe, healthy choice.