NO Recap: Why Nitric Oxide Is a Crucially Important Molecule in the Cardiovascular System
I’ve spent my first 10 years at Herbalife talking about Nitric Oxide and heart health. Since the focus of the Heart Health Initiative is to bring the story of cardiovascular wellness to people across the globe, it’s important to circle back to the NO basics. So, let’s look at NO’s role in supporting the cardiovascular system, why a healthy endothelium is important for optimal NO production, and how lifestyle and nutrition can support NO production and a healthy heart.
Let’s start by looking at the NO basics:
- Our bodies contain 6 trillion endothelial cells, which line 100,000 miles of blood vessels in a single layer.
- When those endothelial cells are healthy, they release a powerful signaling molecule known as Nitric Oxide, or NO.
- When NO is released, it penetrates cell membranes and sends messages, or signals, that help regulate cellular activity and instruct the body to perform certain functions.
- While NO influences the functioning of nearly every organ in the body, its role in the cardiovascular system is especially crucial.
Think of the cardiovascular system as the shipping and delivery center of the body. The heart “ships” out oxygen, nutrients and messages (in the form of hormones and other biochemicals) through arteries and capillaries to every cell in the body. While all this is happening, veins remove waste and toxins from cells throughout the body and “deliver” de-oxygenized blood back to the heart. Meanwhile, NO controls and regulates this entire system through its production in the lining of every blood vessel and enhances the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the cells.
But how does it do this? In a number of ways. One of the most important roles of NO is as a vasodilator, meaning it helps control blood flow and pressure throughout the body. NO signals the blood vessels to relax and widen, or dilate, increasing blood flow to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the body and bring deoxygenated blood back to heart. This supports healthy blood pressure levels, which is critical to cardiovascular wellness. NO is also a crucially important cardiovascular antioxidant in the body and helps keep blood vessels young, elastic and healthy.
Healthy Cells, Healthy Heart
When you look at the cardiovascular system as a whole, it becomes clear that “healthy heart” really means “healthy cells” and optimal cellular function. And as you’ve learned, NO is an extremely important part of keeping the body’s cells healthy. It’s important to understand that NO can’t be consumed, but it is produced in the body. The good news is that you can support NO production in the body, which, in turn, supports optimal cardiovascular function. How? By supporting the endothelium—the production house of NO—through exercise, lifestyle changes and specific nutrients.
Weight loss and exercise are two important things you can do to support endothelial health. Getting the recommended minimum 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days per week can go a long way toward supporting cardiovascular wellness, and studies show that exercise is a natural way to boost NO production by increasing blood flow to the arteries and encouraging dilation of the blood vessels. Since NO production naturally decreases with age, it’s especially important to remain active in your later years.
Along with exercise, the body also needs key nutrients for proper endothelial functioning. In addition to healthy protein intake, nutrients like Omega-3 fatty acids, CoQ10, krill oil, garlic and green tea can all support a healthy endothelium. But it’s important to remember that nutrients alone aren’t enough to support optimal NO production—it must be in conjunction with a healthy, active lifestyle.
Optimal Nitric Oxide levels supporting cardiovascular wellness isn’t a new concept—it’s a topic I’ve been passionate about for over a decade. Still, many people haven’t heard the lifesaving message of endothelial health. I encourage you to share this article with your friends, family, co-workers or anyone else who could benefit from a healthy heart. Help me reach the 7 billion people across the globe with the good news about endothelial health and cardiovascular wellness.
How do you keep your cardiovascular system healthy?