Over the past few years, the supplement industry has been producing a plethora of nitric oxide boosters, and the two words themselves have become synonymous with grainy, hard, muscular physiques. Almost every other page in a bodybuilding magazine is centered on this biological phenomenon. So is it any wonder why something so ubiquitous and accessible is shrouded in mystery- as if the scientific language rarefies the novel process, creating a wealth of misinformation? In this article, my endeavor is to unveil the physiological complexity of nitric oxide and delve into its benefits while eschewing technical language.
The prestigious 1998 Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology was awarded to three pharmacologists for their discovery of nitric oxide. What they discovered in their research was an endogenous, inorganic gas which was able to relax the smooth muscles beneath the endothelium, causing a dilation of the blood vessel. When this occurs, blood is able to flow unimpeded to peripheral tissues and overall blood pressure is lowered. The benefits for bodybuilding are already apparent because during anaerobic exercise the pulmonary and cardiovascular systems fall behind the quick exertions, causing the muscles to fail much quicker than in aerobic activities. Nitric oxide gas permeates the smooth muscles beneath the endothelium, allowing for the vessel to dilate which allows for more blood and oxygen to flow through to the energy starved muscle tissues. To get a clearer conception, let’s imagine a red straw served in mixed drinks at a bar. These straws are small and allow for a small volume of liquid to pass through. Now, imagine if that small space grew in diameter- like a straw served with a milkshake. The result would be more liquid passing through at a greater volume and less incidence of causing excess pressure on the walls of the straw. What the three pharmacologists noted during their study was that when atherosclerotic vessels were dilated, there was a markedly reduced incidence of heart attack in patients. This was a breakthrough because people suffering from ischemic induced pain were now finding relief as their blood vessels expanded, replenishing energy starved mitochondria.
Here’s a brief overview of what occurs when nitric oxide is released within the blood vessels. An agonist like acetylcholine attaches to a receptor on the surface of the endothelial cell, causing the release of the gas nitric oxide. Nitric oxide has hydrophobic solubility, giving it the unique capacity to penetrate the cell wall into the cytosol of the muscle cell. Once inside the cell, nitric oxide triggers an enzyme called guanylate cyclase, which then produces cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP). cGMP relaxes the smooth muscles which allows blood to move more easily through the vessel. This process is important for normal penile erection and popular erectile drugs like cialis inhibit an enzyme called phosphodiesterase (PDE5). PDE5 breaks down cGMP which thus reduces nitric oxide levels.
The best supplements for releasing endogenous nitric oxide are: arginine, citrulline malate, glyceryl phosphoryl choline, agamatine and norvaline. Arginine is the most accessible of these, but research has shown that it triggers the release of arginase, an inhibitory enzyme that converts arginine into ornithine as part of the urea cycle. Norvaline, the branch chain amino acid with a missing hydrocarbon group, reduces the activity of arginase, which allows for longer vasodilation of blood vessels. Out of all of these, glyceryl phosphoryl choline provides the best benefits because it’s a direct precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is cholinergic and flows through pre and post ganglionic parasympathetic fibers that innervate blood vessels. When blood is moving through the vessels unimpeded at a faster rate, the muscles are able to contract a few extra times. Going beyond thresholds each workout is the key to building muscle.
Yes, Nitric Oxide promotes vasodilation of the blood vessels which is a normal physiological process in the body.
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