We have already published a few posts about nitric oxide (NO). This includes the benefits of NO, the foods high in NO, and a few others. However, several people new to the fitness niche still aren’t entirely clear what NO is. What is nitric oxide, anyways? We’ll explain the “what” and “how” while keeping the explanation as laymen-friendly as possible.

What Is Nitric Oxide?

In its simplest form, nitric oxide is a molecule that the human body naturally produces. It is not to be confused with similarly-named gases, such as nitrous oxide (N2O) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

To date, over 60,000 studies have been done on NO since 1998. In just the last 20 years, scientists have learned of NOs tremendous role in cell communication. In other words, it acts as a signaling molecule.

Is Nitric Oxide Dangerous?

If you look up nitric oxide’s definition on Britannica, it defines NO as a “colorless toxic gas.” The keyword here is “toxic.”

NO is also emitted by cars, factories, and power plants. In fact, the EPA has designated NO as a serious air pollutant.

Understandably, this has led many to question the safety of nitric oxide and why it’s such highly touted in the health industry if it’s considered a toxic pollutant.

Yes, it’s true that NO is highly reactive and can be highly poisonous in large quantities. However, as mentioned earlier, it’s also a molecule the human body produces naturally. The NO we produce in our internal system is necessary for performing various bodily functions.

Yeah, it’s kind of a paradox that something so vital for keeping our body functioning can also make us sick. Just keep this in mind: the NO produced in your body is good for you. The same goes for the foods and supplements that promote more production of it. On the other hand, NO emitted from any other source, such as vehicles and waste plants, is hazardous. 

What Does Nitric Oxide Do?

The role of nitric oxide in the body is numerous. Aside from helping the 50 trillion cells in our body communicate, it also benefits our blood, organs, veins, skeletal muscles, etc. Among its many roles, NO:

  • Acts as a blood vessel relaxant
  • Controls blood flow to muscle tissue
  • Regulates the flow of oxygen to existing mitochondria cells. These are the cells responsible for generating energy during physical output, hence the popularity of NO supplements.
  • Stimulates the production of more mitochondria cells
  • Deactivates the respiratory chain enzymes in parasitic organisms and virus-infected cells.

How Is Nitric Oxide Produced?

NO production isn’t a completely automatic process. We need to consciously do our end by eating the right foods and exercising. If these factors aren’t in place, the body loses its ability to produce NO especially as we age and suffer the effects of free radical damage.

Scientists still don’t fully understand how NO is produced, though, they have a fairly good understanding thanks to the tools of modern science.

Here’s what researchers know: nitric oxide begins as the compound nitric oxide synthase (NOS). NOS is converted into NO with the aid of the amino acid L-arginine. This is why the typical NO supplement contains L-arginine as a primary active ingredient. The amino acid signals the NOS in the endothelial cells (located in the arterial lining) to release NO. Aside from NO release, NOS also produces L-citrulline in the process, which in turn converts back to L-arginine where it can continue NO production in a continuous cycle.

More recently, researchers also discovered that an enzyme known as argininosuccinate lyase (ASL) also plays a role. ASL was previously believed to be an enzyme with the sole role of shuttling ammonia out of the body. In a recent study, however, nitric oxide production was greatly diminished in mice with inhibited ASL expression.

Nitric Oxide’s Role in Performance Enhancement

What does nitric oxide do in terms of physical performance improvement? We need to discuss this given the popularity surge of nitric oxide supplements.

We established earlier that nitric oxide transports oxygen to mitochondria cells as well as aids in the production of new mitochondria cells. These cells, in turn, provide the energy output during those heavy lifts. Furthermore, by relaxing the blood vessels, this allows more oxygen to enter the muscle tissues hard at work. Muscle cannot function without oxygen. The enhanced blood flow also accounts for the heightened muscle pump that people feel immediately after a gut-busting set of squats or bench presses.

The Role of Nitric Oxide Supplements

The very term “NO supplement” is kind of misleading since such products don’t actually contain nitric oxide. Instead, they contain ingredients or substrates that boosts your body’s natural ability to make more NO. L-arginine is a common ingredient as we mentioned earlier. The amino acid L-citrulline is another one, as are nitrates.

Studies show that taking a NO supplement improves tolerance of both aerobic and anaerobic activity, especially among inactive individuals just beginning a workout regimen.

Nitric Oxide Is Beneficial and Natural

What is nitric oxide? Hopefully, now you can answer that question on your own based on our information. Much like creatine, NO is a naturally-occurring compound that has been established in studies to aid your body in all the vital areas of your health. You do have to fulfill your end, though, by regularly exercising, consuming NO-rich foods, and/or taking a NO supplement like Redwood.


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