From genetics to stress to sleep to the food you eat, several factors play roles in how you age, and more importantly, how quickly you age!
One factor that often gets overlooked or lost in the crowd of more relatable factors, though?
If you’ve often brushed this particular element aside as too scientific and hence, out of reach/ control of lay folks like us, you wouldn’t be the only one.
However, nitric oxide is far more accessible than many folks think, present within the human body as well as in plenty around it.
Here’s all you need to know about nitric oxide levels and aging, as well as how to naturally increase your nitric oxide levels (because who doesn’t want to live longer, right?)
A Little Bit About Nitric Oxide
It may surprise you to know that nitric oxide (different from nitrogen monoxide, which is a toxic and colorless gas) is naturally produced by the human body and plays a key role in several health aspects.
This little wonder molecule is responsible for a little something known as vasodilation, or the relaxation of the blood vessels’ inner muscles.
Why is this relaxation necessary? To increase and widen your blood circulation, resulting in better heart health, better post-exercise recovery rates, and reduced blood pressure, especially in pregnant women.
Nitric oxide, apart from being naturally produced by the body, can be found in certain foods, or in the form of supplements, pills, creams, and powders.
L-citrulline and L-arginine are the two most commonly available nitric oxide supplements. The former is found in nuts, watermelon, legumes, and meat, whereas the latter is found in fish, red meat, dairy, and poultry.
Both L-arginine and L-citrulline are amino acids, critical elements of protein.
On average, apart from internal production, human beings consume around 5 gm of L-arginine per day.
A lack of sufficient nitric oxide in the body could lead to issues such as erectile dysfunction, heart disease, and diabetes.
Does Nitric Oxide Influence Aging?
According to scientists, there are three main aspects of aging.
1. The first one is the shortening and eventual erosion of telomeres, structures found at the end of your DNA strands.
Shortened and eroded telomere cells are replaced by the body, but with each successive generation of replacing, there is some amount of error that creeps in, leading to a downgrade in the cell and tissue functioning, and eventually, cell death.
2. The second concerns the powerhouses of the cell—the mitochondria. Eventually, your mitochondria stop working as well as they did in your early days, which means that the energy available to the cells decreases.
This, in turn, leads to;
3. a gradual decline in the body’s ability to repair any damages, thanks to factors 1 and 2.
The point of this whole biology lesson, also known as the ‘unified theory of aging’?
To tell you that nitric oxide is an important part of all three processes!
Nitric oxide is the force behind telomerase, the enzyme responsible for adding telomeres to the ends of DNA strands. It also controls the regeneration of mitochondria and is responsible for signaling to the stem cells that they should be repairing some damage.
In addition to this, nitric oxide also plays a crucial role in managing blood pressure—another extremely important factor that contributes to aging.
For blood vessels to be flexible and open, sufficient nitric oxide needs to be present in the body. Flexible and open blood vessels further mean better blood flow, which in turn slows the process of aging.
To test out the role of nitric oxide in aging, nitric-oxide-producing bacteria were fed to one group of roundworms, whereas the control group was not fed any (the roundworms themselves did not have nitric-oxide-producing capabilities internally).
Unsurprisingly, the results showed that the group that was fed the nitric-oxide-producing bacteria lived longer, by 15%, than the control group.
This study not only highlighted the importance of nitric oxide in the aging process but also the role of bacteria that produce nitric oxide, as they could help supplement a lack of nitric oxide in the body.
Are My Nitric Oxide Levels Sufficient?
Unfortunately, there is currently no way to measure the amount of nitric oxide present in the human body at any given time. No drugs or lab tests can help in this matter.
However, there are indirect indicators that could help identify whether there are sufficient nitric oxide levels in the body, even if they can’t tell you the exact quantity present.
One such indicator is blood pressure. The higher the blood pressure, the lower the amount of nitric oxide.
Increasing Your Nitric Oxide Levels
If you want to live like you're 16 when you're 60, increasing your intake of nitric oxide may go a long way in doing so!
Here are a few ways in which you can increase your nitric oxide levels naturally!
Grab Those Antioxidants!
Nitric oxide is quite unstable by nature, which means that it quickly breaks down in the bloodstream and must continuously be resupplied to the body to maintain sufficient nitric oxide levels.
How does this relate to antioxidants?
Well, antioxidants make nitric oxide more stable and decrease the rate of nitric-oxide breakdown.
Antioxidants are known for their superb ability to neutralize nitric-oxide-destroying free radicals—this is also why antioxidants are all the rage in present-day skincare!
Some common and important antioxidants include vitamins E and C, polyphenols, and glutathione.
Wondering where to find antioxidants? You can find them in foods such as grains, fruits, nuts, vegetables, and seeds.
Eating Nitrate-Rich Foods
Many foods are rich in nitrates, such as cress, lettuce, beetroots, spinach, arugula, and celery, to name a few.
These foods are storehouses of nitrates, which are converted into nitric oxide when consumed, leading to a range of health benefits such as better endurance and heart health.
It should be noted that nitrates can also be found in processed meats, but these may be harmful to human health, as opposed to nitrates in vegetables.
Lay Off The Mouthwash!
Yes, mouthwash kills much of the cavity-causing bacteria in your mouth, but that’s not the only bacteria it kills.
Mouthwash can also kill off the good bacteria that help produce nitric oxide, making your mouth free from nitric-oxide-producing bacteria for up to 12 hours.
These good bacteria convert nitrate to nitric oxide, a task impossible for the human body without these fellas!
The lack of these bacteria can lead to an increase in diseases caused by the lack of sufficient nitric oxide, especially diabetes—nitric oxide is responsible for regulating insulin, necessary for controlling diabetes.
Several over-the-counter nitric-oxide-boosting supplements are now available; while these don’t directly increase the amount of nitric oxide in the body, they contain elements that help its production.
Ingesting 20 gm of L-arginine per day is deemed safe, whereas for L-citrulline, the amount is unspecified (but low doses are recommended).
Surprise, surprise—exercise is good for yet another aspect of health!
Adding to its already long list of merits, exercising helps in maintaining nitric oxide levels by improving endothelial function (the thin blood-vessel-lining layer of cells) by increasing blood flow.
The endothelium needs to be healthy as it produces nitric oxide and keeps blood vessels in top shape. An unhealthy endothelium could mean endothelial dysfunction, which in turn could mean atherosclerosis, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
Exercising also increases the activity of antioxidants, which, as we’ve already seen, inhibits free-radical-induced nitric-oxide breakdown.
Nitric Oxide Levels and Aging: The Final Word
So, does nitric oxide play a role in the aging process?
Long story short—yes, it does.
Sufficient nitric oxide levels could limit the factors that cause premature or quick aging, while also improving one’s overall health and well-being.
Luckily, if your nitric oxide levels are insufficient, there are ways to increase these levels in your body, as mentioned above.
Follow these, and you’ll notice that in addition to your nitric oxide levels increasing, a host of other health benefits will also make their way to you!