20 Ways to Increase Nitric Oxide (NO) Levels Naturally
By Ali Kuoppala | Last reviewed Tue 25 September 2018
Medical Review by Dr. Stefano Pizzo, MD
Nitric oxide (NO) is a gaseous signaling molecule of the human body, and also a powerful vasodilator.
Because of the fact that it enhances circulation all around the human body, nitric oxide boosters are generously used as pre-workout supplements among weight-lifters and various other athletes that could benefit from increased circulation in their choice of sport.
But creating the feeling of ‘pump’ before a workout isn’t by far the only benefit of increasing nitric oxide levels:
b) NO improves brain functioning and reduces cognitive decline, due to the fact that it greatly enhances blood flow to the brain and functions as a secondary neurotransmitter between nerve cells (study, study, study).
c) Nitric oxide is one of the main ‘ingredients’ behind erections, and without the molecule, you simply couldn’t have a boner. (study, study, study). Simply put, the more nitric oxide you have, the stronger the tool of love.
d) Boosting nitric oxide levels can greatly improve the effectiveness of your workouts, due to the fact that your muscles will receive more oxygen and nutrients when your veins are dilated and circulation is enhanced. For the same reason, NO also shortens recovery time (study, study).
e) Certain vasodilator drugs like minoxidil can potentially increase beard growth rate through nitric oxide related vasodilation. Theoretically, boosting NO naturally should help facial hair to grow as well.
Simply put, increasing nitric oxide makes the body run more smoothly, as oxygen, nutrients, and red blood cells can reach their target tissue and cells faster.
The team of researchers that discovered NO’s vasodilating and cardioprotective effects actually received Nobel’s price back in 1998. So the molecule is kind of an important thing, especially if you’re a man.
Fortunately, it’s quite easy to boost nitric oxide naturally, and you can do it with a small budget too. The results are often fast. For example, I can double my nitric oxide levels in a day, only by following the tip number #1 below.
I use these saliva testing strips (affiliate link) to monitor my nitric oxide levels at home.
Now that you know what is nitric oxide and why it’s so beneficial, here’s 20 ways to increase nitric oxide levels naturally:
1. Eat Foods that Boost Nitric Oxide
When you eat foods that contain natural nitrates, the bacteria in your tongue converts them into nitritines…
This occurrence – as you might guess – will increase your nitric oxide levels dose-dependently (the more nitrates you eat, the more nitric oxide your tongue and gut will produce and convert).
And fortunately, nitrate-rich foods are easy to obtain and they’re also quite cheap…
…Here’s a list of few great foods that are natural vasodilators:
- arugula lettuce
- iceberg lettuce
- collard greens
NOTE: I should warn you that some folks scare people about nitrates, as they can possibly convert into carcinogenic nitrosamines in the body. However, in reality, that’s nothing to be scared about, just read Dr. Kessers excellent article about the issue to understand why. Also, vitamin C and vitamin E block the possible conversion to nitrosamines, in case you want to play it super-safe…
2. Grape Seed Extract
Grape seed extract (GSE) is simply an extract derived from grape seeds.
The extract itself is great for testosterone production, as it’s one of the few natural substances that can block the conversion of testosterone into estrogen. In other words, GSE is a potent aromatase enzyme blocker.
But on top of that, grape seed extract is also great at increasing nitric oxide levels…
…Studies on humans show that it drops blood pressure and heart rate, and animal studies show that it activates the natural nitric oxide synthase of the body and increases NO levels by 138% when taken at doses of 100mg/kg (study, study, study, study, study, study).
The problem with GSE is that you can’t get enough of the active compounds (procyanidins) just by eating grapes, and most of the supplements on the market are quite weak too.
3. Vitamin C + Garlic
It’s a well known medical fact that vitamin C increases nitric oxide production in the body, and that it also protects the molecules.
Garlic, on the other hand, is a natural vasodilator and filled with natural nitrates, and it also contains a compound called quercetin, which is linked to increased NO levels in various studies (more about quercetin later in this post).
Few studies have also found that garlic is more effective at dropping high blood pressure than most drugs on the market.
So that’s why a researcher by the name of Adam Moussa, decided in this study, to give his human subjects some vitamin C (2 grams), along with 4 garlic tablets (6 mg of allicin and 13.2 mg of alliin) for 10 days to see if it had any impact on their blood pressure and/or nitric oxide levels…
…The results were quite impressive:
a) The endothelial nitric oxide output increased by a staggering 200%.
b) On average the systolic blood pressure dropped from 142 mm to 115 mm, which is more than can be achieved with most medication.
c) Diastolic Blood pressure decreased from 92 mm to 77 mm on average.
L-Citrulline is an amino acid that your kidneys will convert into L-arginine.
L-Arginine will then convert into nitric oxide by the actions of the nitric oxide synthase enzyme (eNOS). Meaning that supplementation with L-citrulline is a solid way to increase NO levels naturally (study, study).
Why not supplement with direct L-arginine then?
Answer: For some odd reason, L-citrulline is better at increasing serum arginine content than L-arginine itself. This doesn’t mean that L-arginine wouldn’t work, it’s just that citrulline is better at increasing the nitric oxide boosting arginine than the actual amino acid.
You can get some citrulline by eating watermelons, however, to get any noticeable effects, supplementation with the amino acid is recommended. To get the best bio-availability go with citrulline malate.
Like I said above, L-citrulline is more effective at increasing arginine content than L-arginine itself is, which is odd, but sometimes the body works like that (maybe the arginine produced by the kidneys is superior to lab-made).
However, even though citrulline is better, it doesn’t mean that arginine would be useless. It’s still the staple ingredient in almost all of the pre-workout boosters out there.
But again, citrulline is superior.
Exercising and staying active is amazingly awesome for pretty much everything. After all, we were never meant to sit around all day.
We should be constantly on the move, walking, climbing, etc.
And pretty much all kinds of exercise (all the way from walking into strength training) has been shown to increase nitric oxide levels, both, temporarily and the baseline (study, study, study, study, study).
Also if you go to the gym regularly, nitric oxide production will increase as your muscles increase in size. In a way, your body notices that the muscles need more blood, oxygen, and nutrients, so it increases the baseline nitric oxide synthase and thus, your baseline nitric oxide levels will increase too…
…That’s one of the many reasons why bodybuilders often have some crazy vascularity going on.
Pycnogenol is a formulation of maritime pine bark extract, one that has been standardized to contain 65-75% procyanidin (same active ingredient as in grape seed extract).
Pycnogenol also has some anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant benefits…
…But what’s really exciting about Pycnogenol, is the fact that there’s plenty of science backing up its effects as a blood flow enhancer.
Just take a look at these studies:
a) In this study, Pycnogenol was found to relax the inner lining of arteries.
b) In this study, 40mg and 120mg of oral Pycnogenol were able to significantly improve the quality, achievability, and duration of erections in subjects with erectile dysfunction (most likely due to the increase in blood flow).
So Pycnogenol is definitely an interesting compound. A quick look at Amazon reveals that I’d probably go with this brand (affiliate link).
It’s a well-known fact that natural sunlight triggers the skin to produce vitamin D.
What most people don’t know, is that the natural sunlight will also trigger the skin to synthesize more nitric oxide (provided that you don’t use sunscreens that block the natural nitric oxide production).
And this is no bro-science either. The researchers at the University of Edinburgh found out that when sunlight touches the skin, nitric oxide is instantly released into the bloodstream…
…Furthermore, they concluded that sunlight exposure can significantly increase your life-expectancy by cutting the risk of stroke.
“We suspect that the benefits to heart health of sunlight will outweigh the risk of skin cancer. The work we have done provides a mechanism that might account for this, and also explains why dietary vitamin D supplements alone will not be able to fully compensate for lack of sunlight.”
Sunlight is essential for life, and you can’t get it out of a bottle. Besides, you’re 80 times more likely to die from a stroke than by skin cancer anyway.
Panax ginseng, or the ‘real Korean ginseng’, cultivate in Korea (duh).
It contains these active compounds called ‘ginsenosides’ which are structurally very similar to androgens, such as testosterone.
What makes ginseng interesting, is the fact that several human studies show how it increases testosterone, increases nitric oxide, improves circulation, promotes sleep quality, relaxes arteries, and boosts libido (study, study, study, study, study, study).
Ginseng is one very popular herb, and that also means that there’s plenty of fake products on the market. Also note that we’re talking about Korean red ginseng (panax) here, not the American or Siberian alternatives.
To get the real deal authentic Korean ginseng, I’d suggest getting the brand mentioned in the above article.
Quercetin is one of the most researched flavonoids out there, and even though it’s not that effective when taken as a supplement without any other bioflavonoids in synergy with it, doesn’t mean that it would be useless.
That’s why I recommend that you get your quercetin from food sources (or if you supplement with it, remember to eat plenty of flavonoid-rich foods with it).
Foods highest in quercetin are onions, garlic, chives, apples, grapes, and red wine.
Also if you’re keen on supplements, consider this one from Solgar.
11. Coenzyme Q10
Coenzyme Q10 is a molecule that’s found in the mitochondria of cells. It produces energy, which keeps your body running.
It’s extremely important for basic human survival, but your body can synthesize it, which means that supplementation is not necessary (even though it can be quite beneficial).
You see, quite a list of conditions can be caused by low CQ10 levels, such as male infertility, low testosterone, cardiovascular disease, fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s disease, etc. Also, several drugs can deplete baseline CQ10 levels, such as statins…
…But the thing that we’re talking about today is nitric oxide, and coenzyme Q10 can definitely help with that.
However, supplementation with coenzyme Q10 can be quite expensive, and I like to make sure that I get my extra CQ10 from food sources, such as salmon, grass-fed red meat, animal organs, egg yolks, Brazil nuts, and spinach.
12. Toss out the Mouthwash
Remember in the tip number #1 how I said that the bacteria in your tongue converts nitrates into nitritines, and then your gut continues the process by converting the nitritines into NO?
Well, that process never occurs if you’re a ‘heavy user’ of mouthwashes.
Listerine and the likes, tend to destroy all of the bacteria in your mouth (remember not all bacteria is bad) so that the nitrates can’t convert into nitritines.
I for one don’t use any mouthwashes. Eating real unprocessed food, drinking plenty of water, and washing my teeth every evening is enough to keep my breath fresh.
You wouldn’t think that the simple act of laughing could do anything dramatic…
…However, research has already shown us that when men watch 60 minutes of a comedy film, their growth hormone, dopamine, and nitric oxide levels increase significantly when compared to control group.
So maybe it’s true that laughter makes you live longer.
Whatever the case might be, at least your circulation will improve when you’re having fun.
Niacin (vitamin B3) is one of the essential nutrients for human survival.
To put it mildly, niacin plays a crucial role in energy production, gene expression, and hormone synthesis. Humans cannot exist without it.
It’s also good for the heart. Actually, research shows that it’s far more beneficial than statins at reducing deaths caused by stroke (which isn’t that hard really as statins have never worked well in the first place, or in any peer-reviewed studies).
This is mostly because of the facts that niacin increases nitric oxide synthase, and thus, baseline NO levels, and it also elevates the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol, while simultaneously lowering the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol (study, study, study).
I get mine through foods, mainly from red meat. And occasionally I pop a multi-vitamin, just so I can be sure that I’m getting enough.
Capsaicin is the alkaloid that makes all chilis hot. It’s the exact compound that creates the feel of heat in your mouth.
One animal study also suggests that capsaicin might protect testosterone molecules during long-term calorie restriction.
You can get plenty of capsaicin by adding some cayenne pepper (or other hot chilis) to your foods, or you could also supplement with the alkaloid if you’re no friend of hot foods.
16. Coffee, or not
Nitric oxide is a natural vasodilator, meaning that it dilates the blood vessels and lowers blood pressure…
…Coffee, on the other hand, is the polar opposite. A vasoconstrictor, which makes the vessels smaller, while also increasing blood pressure.
But then again, coffee contains plenty of antioxidants, which in this study, was shown to increase the enzyme nitric oxide synthase, which converts arginine into NO.
So the antioxidants in coffee increase nitric oxide production, but the caffeine in it constricts blood vessels at the same time.
So it’s probably a plus, minus, zero kinds of situation, except if you drink decaffeinated coffee, then you would get a boost in NO, without the vasoconstrictor effects. However, you wouldn’t get the testosterone boost that coffee gives since that’s caused by caffeine.
17. Raw Cacao
Raw cacao – and by this, I mean real unheated cacao that has been cold pressed from the bean – is a superfood that contains A LOT of antioxidant and polyphenols.
Raw cacao actually contains the same nitric oxide boosting active compound as Pycnogenol and grape seed extract do (procyanidins), along with many other NO boosting antioxidants.
However, when purchasing raw cocoa, remember that it has to be raw and cold pressed. Heat destroys the antioxidants.
Icariin is a flavonoid that can be found in a herb by the name of horny goat weed (Epimedium).
The herb itself is known for its aphrodisiac benefits, and animal research suggests that it can boost testosterone levels quite significantly (more here).
The active compound in the plant (icariin) is great for nitric oxide production, and it also acts as a mild PDE-5 enzyme inhibitor. Meaning that it works similarly as ED drugs (study, study, study, study) So in a way you could say that icariin is natural viagra with circulation-enhancing, nitric oxide boosting, and testosterone boosting benefits.
I have personally tried the herb and the extracted icariin, the latter is what i recommend (affiliate link).
19. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
When we eat too much of omega-6 fatty acids, and get too little of the omega-3’s we induce a state of inflammation in tissues.
Basically we’re eating way too much of the omega-6’s and way too little of the omega-3’s. Correcting that is simple, just start eating more omega-3’s and less omega-6’s. Your overall health will improve dramatically, and nitric oxide levels will increase in the process.
Resveratrol is a polyphenol flavonoid present in grapes and red wine.
The compound caught my interest when I found few studies about it increasing testosterone levels and reducing estrogen levels, which was exactly what I’m interested in…
…But then I found something more.
So to increase nitric oxide production naturally, drink red wine, eat grapes, and perhaps supplement with resveratrol (which should also be supercharged with piperine due to its low bio-availability as an extract).
So there you go, 20 ways to increase nitric oxide levels naturally, and a brief explanation of why you should do just that.
Also, remember that you can monitor your NO levels easily at home with this kind of nitric oxide testing strips. They’re pretty easy to use and accurate.