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Nitric oxide benefits: What to know

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About and benefitsRaising NO levelsSummary
Maintaining healthy levels of nitric oxide may improve your circulation, lower your blood pressure, and reduce your risk of disease.
Medically reviewed by William C Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written by Charlotte Parker
Updated on

Nitric oxide (NO) is essential for the healthy regulation of your metabolism, as well as your body’s cardiovascular, nervous, and immune systems.

Not having enough NO is an element of some serious health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Nitric oxide and its benefits

An arrangement of leafy green vegetables protruding from a loosely woven shopping bag depicting nitric oxide benefits
Sergey Narevskih/Stocksy United

NO is a naturally produced gas molecule. The cells in your body need it to communicate and efficiently work together.

You can find NO in many fresh and unprocessed foods. If a doctor or healthcare professional advises that your NO levels are low, you can increase your intake naturally by consuming more foods rich in NO, or you can consider taking supplements.

NO can help the body in many ways. Let’s look at some of these now.

Heart health and improved circulation

The cells that line your blood vessels form a protective layer known as the vascular endothelium.

Your vascular endothelium needs NO to regulate blood flow. This helps your blood vessels relax and widen (vasodilate), and it helps your circulation improve.

NO also helps your red blood cells adapt their shape as they move around your body, a 2022 research review reports. This helps reduce blood vessel damage and improve cardiovascular health.

Plus, NO regulates the transfer of nutrients and hormones from your blood to your tissue. It also plays a major role in your immune response.

Improved performance in sports and exercise

Having healthy levels of NO can support your body and make sure it performs efficiently.

NO helps ensure your muscles gain more oxygen and nutrients when they are under extra strain, according to a 2023 research review. It does this by allowing your cardiovascular system to be more responsive and by improving circulation.

NO also aids recovery and reduces the muscle ache you may feel after strenuous exercise.

Lowering blood pressure

Because of its vasodilatory effect, NO can naturally help lower your blood pressure, a 2018 research review suggests.

This can be particularly helpful if you have high blood pressure (hypertension) when you are pregnant or if you cannot take hypertension medications.

Helping with erectile dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common condition, and experts consider NO to play a vital role in getting and keeping an erection.

In fact, a medication called phosphodiesterase type-5 inhibitors has been approved to help with ED by releasing NO into the body. It is generally thought that these medications help 65–70% of people with ED.

Examples of this type of medication are:

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Nitric oxide and cancer therapy

NO may make some cancer treatments more effective, such as radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy.

Experts suggest that NO may have a cytostatic effect, meaning it helps block the growth of tumor cells. It may also have a cytotoxic effect, meaning it kills tumor cells that are already present.

Helping to protect against viruses

Clinical evidence suggests that NO has antiviral action against some viruses like the common cold, according to a 2021 research review.

And studies in a 2020 review suggest that NO may help to reduce respiratory tract infection by inactivating viruses.

Because of this, current research is examining NO as a treatment for the symptoms of COVID-19.

Nitric oxide and inflammation

Inflammation is a major factor in health conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, and hepatitis.

NO plays a role in the regulation and reduction of inflammation in your body, according to 2019 research.

Nitric oxide and mental health

Because NO helps regulate inflammatory conditions, it may help to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, in which inflammation has been shown to be a central part of both its onset and progression.

NO also helps regulate the transfer of information among neurons (neurotransmission). Having levels of NO that are too high or too low may be associated with major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, and anxiety.

Raising nitric oxide levels

To make NO, your body uses nitrates and nitrites, which come from fresh and unprocessed foods.

You can increase NO levels by eating foods that are particularly high in nitrates and nitrites, such as:

  • dark green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, arugula, and chard
  • beetroot (beets)
  • cabbage
  • cauliflower
  • broccoli
  • carrots

Eating these vegetables raw will have the most benefit. This is because cooking reduces the amount of nitrates and nitrites.

Protein-rich foods — such as meat, fish, seeds, and nuts — contain L-arginine and L-citrulline. Both of these can also boost NO production.

Breathing through your nose

High concentrations of NO are produced by the sinuses in your nasal cavity.

Breathing through your nose draws NO down into your lungs. This helps open up your airways and improves your body’s ability to absorb oxygen.

If you breathe through your mouth, it closes off your nasal cavity and greatly reduces the amount of NO that your body can absorb.

Exercising raises nitric oxide levels

Even moderate exercise raises your body’s production of NO.

Evidence from 2017 suggests that this rise in NO production is the reason that regular exercise can lower your blood pressure.

Antibacterial mouthwash

Antibacterial mouthwash causes a reduction in NO production because it kills the helpful saliva bacteria that turn the nitrates and nitrites from food into NO.

Limiting your mouthwash use can help maintain healthy NO levels.

Taking supplements

Supplements such as curcumin (found in turmeric), L-arginine, and L-citrulline all show an ability to increase NO production, per 2022 research.

However, too much NO can lead to oxidative stress and increase your disease risk. Because taking NO-boosting supplements can worsen some health conditions and may interfere with some medications, it is best to seek medical advice before taking them.


NO is a gas molecule essential for the body to regulate many of its processes.

Ensuring that your body has enough NO reduces your risk of serious health conditions.

Eating fresh and unprocessed foods, getting regular exercise, breathing through your nose, and limiting your use of antibacterial mouthwash are all ways that you can naturally raise NO levels.

However, too much NO may cause unwanted health conditions or increase the risk of disease. Consider discussing your levels with a doctor or healthcare professional before attempting to raise your levels or taking supplements.

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