When you think about your lung health, I doubt nitric oxide comes to mind. For some readers, this may be the first you are hearing about nitric oxide, to begin with. So the goal of this article is to provide an overview of what nitric oxide is, how it specifically benefits lung health, some other benefits of nitric oxide, and a few tips on increasing your nitric oxide levels.

Nitric oxide (NO) provides countless benefits to your body. The major benefits discussed today are lung health support and immune support. Just to clarify early on, I may use respiratory health and lung health interchangeably, but for the purposes of this article, they mean the same thing. NO’s impact on the body benefits energy production, circulation, stamina, recovery, and so much more.


What Is Nitric Oxide?

This gaseous molecule produced naturally in the body is more important than many people realize. It is chemically comprised of one nitrogen atom and one oxygen atom. Sometimes it can be confused with nitrous oxide (N20). Nitrous oxide has two nitrogen atoms instead of one, which changes its structure and uses entirely. The body uses 3 main compounds to produce NO. These are the amino acids L-arginine and L-citrulline, and nitrates found in your diet.

NO was recognized for its benefits to the cardiovascular system in 1998 when a few scientists won the Nobel prize for discovering how NO expands blood vessels and regulates blood pressure. Since 1998, thousands of other studies have been conducted on NO and its benefits. These studies show that nitric oxide plays a vital role in systems such as the respiratory system, immune system, bone support, brain support, and so on.


Nitric Oxide For Lung Health

Make no mistake, the biggest role played by NO is in keeping our hearts healthy and our blood pressure regulated. A role nitric oxide does not get enough credit for is the role in sustaining our lung health. Within the respiratory system, NO works to promote the dilation of blood vessels. NO also promotes the expansion of airways to the lungs. The fact that NO is a vasodilator is the biggest role it plays in the body. However, NO does not get noticed enough for how vasodilation improves lung health. Furthermore, NO promotes mucus secretion within the bronchial wall that supports proper lung function. Also, since NO acts as a signaling molecule, it can signal neurotransmitters within those bronchial walls that further promote proper lung function.

Essentially, NO provides:


  • expanded blood vessels for circulation
  • expanded airways for optimal oxygen intake
  • mucus secretion for air temperature and lung function
  • neurotransmitter signaling for proper lung function

Another role NO plays in lung health relates to blood flow. NO not only promotes efficient blood flow, but also efficient delivery of oxygen and nutrients via red blood cells. This efficient supply of oxygen allows the lungs and other tissues in the respiratory system to operate effectively.


What Happens To Our Lung Health If Nitric Oxide Is Lacking?

Simply put, sub-optimal nitric oxide production can lead to sub-optimal lung health. This is because a reduction in available NO means the lungs cannot function as effectively. When our lungs do not work as well as they should, oxygen is not delivered throughout the body as effectively when we inhale. So if blood flow and oxygen utilization are failing in the lungs, this failure spreads to other parts of the body as well.

We want our respiratory system to work at optimal capacity. It is because of this that research is being conducted to look into being able to inhale nitric oxide for those with a weaker respiratory system. This method of increasing NO levels very well could save lives one day if other methods of increasing NO are not working. However, rest assured there are plenty of other ways to promote NO production, and we will cover some of those soon.


Apart From Lung Health, What Additional Benefits Does Nitric Oxide Offer?

NO has its hands in a lot of cookie jars so to speak. NO plays an essential role as a vasodilator, an intracellular communicator, and a signaling molecule mostly. However, some of the other important functions NO plays a role in include:


  • Supporting brain health and cognitive function by acting as a signaling molecule between neurons. NO supports memory and helps prevents the onset of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
  • Supports the immune system by fending off foreign intruders and providing red blood cells with oxygen and nutrients
  • Dilates arteries, which improves blood flow and regulates blood pressure.
  • Improves muscle recovery
  • Promotes energy
  • Improves stamina and endurance
  • Promotes skin health
  • Helps protect the skin from UV damage

As stated already, the biggest role NO is known for is vasodilation. This process gives rise to many of the benefits NO provides the body. NO relaxes the smooth muscles within the linings of the endothelium in your vessels, and this allows the vessels to expand, or dilate. Vessel dilation is what improves heart health, muscular health, blood pressure, and lung health.


How Do We Increase Our Nitric Oxide Levels?

NO is a molecule we just cannot have too much of, especially since it has a brief half-life and we start producing less naturally by our mid-20s. It is unfortunate that as we age we make less and less ourselves. Luckily, it is easy to replenish. How do we do this? The easiest ways to increase NO production are through diet and exercise. Let’s explore this in a little more detail.


Food Choices And Nitric Oxide

The body uses the amino acids L-arginine and L-citrulline for NO production. It also uses nitrates found in certain foods as well. Your diet should contain foods that have all three of these ingredients for producing more NO for your lung health and overall health. Thankfully, there is no shortage of healthy options for getting these NO precursors into your body. Nitrates are the best choice for promoting NO production. You can find nitrates in many of the vegetables you eat. The best plant-based options are leafy greens and root plants such as beets.

Examples of foods containing high levels of nitrates are:


  • Arugula
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Celery
  • Bok Choy
  • Swiss Chard
  • Mustard Greens
  • Lettuce

Next up would be L-arginine. This amino acid is used to not only build proteins but also converts into NO. Some examples of food choices high in L-arginine are:


  • Beef
  • Salmon
  • Almonds
  • Chickpeas
  • Oats
  • Milk
  • Cheese

Last up is L-citrulline. The body converts this amino acid into arginine, which is then converted into nitric oxide. So it doesn’t hurt to add some foods high in citrulline to your diet as well. These include:


  • Watermelon
  • Squash
  • Cucumbers
  • Pumpkin
  • Cantaloupe

If you have some of these foods in your diet, you are off to a great start for promoting lung health and overall health!


Exercise And Nitric Oxide

Exercise is important because it leads to more NO production as a by-product. Exercising promotes better overall blood vessel function. The linings of these blood vessels are where NO production occurs. Exercise improves their flexibility and function. When you exercise, your blood pumps faster, and the pressure on the vessels increases. As this pressure increases, nitric oxide production is triggered. When NO production is triggered, vasodilation occurs and the blood vessels expand, which allows for better blood circulation. So when exercise increases, NO production increases, which makes exercising easier so you can exercise more. This in turn allows more nitric oxide to be produced, and so on. Starting one will create a cycle of increased levels and the ability to exercise more.

The best results come from endurance-based training that works your cardiovascular system the most. So think about incorporating exercises such as jogging, swimming, or cycling. However, even as little as 15-20 minutes of brisk walking a day will help boost your NO levels.


Other Tips To Boost Nitric Oxide Levels

Diet and exercise are great places for most people to start to optimize their NO production naturally. However, if you have these up to snuff and still feel like you could be doing more, you are right. So with this in mind, here are a few other tips for boosting your nitric oxide levels if you have optimized your diet and exercise:


  • Increasing antioxidant intake. Antioxidants help stabilize nitric oxide and eliminate free radicals that create oxidative stress that inhibits NO’s bioavailability.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking not only shortens your life span but also inhibits NO production and ruins lung health.
  • Get quality sleep. NO helps the brain function through neuron signaling and improves memory. Getting adequate sleep allows the brain to stay healthy and NO to do its job in the brain optimally.
  • Breathe smarter. There is evidence showing that breathing through your nose and practicing deep breathing techniques can improve your NO production. HOW you breathe matters!
  • Find a high-quality nitric oxide supplement. Look for a good clinically tested and scientifically backed supplement with the right ingredients, the right quantities of those ingredients, and a lot of satisfied customers that swear by the product. 


The Bottom Line

Because nitric oxide plays such an important role in your lung health and overall health, it is essential you do all you can to keep the bioavailability of NO as high as you can. Focus on eating the right foods. Focus on moving your body around every day. Implement the other tips listed above. Do your research and find other ways to boost your NO levels. It is vital that you do what you can to keep your lung health in check, as well as your overall health in check.