The following is an excerpt from the January 2008 issue of Iron Man magazine:
Just Say Yes To NO!
Based on the sheer numbers of nitric oxide-boosting supplements on the market, bodybuilders must love them. It's not difficult to see why: NO-boosting supplements increase muscle pump during exercise. They all contain the amino acid L-arginine, which is the main nutritional ingredient in NO production.
Only recently has science recognized the importance of NO in human health. In the past chemists viewed it as a junk product, the main constituent of smog. NO is both a gas and a free radical, used by immune cells to kill bacteria and other disease-causing invaders of the body.
Ads for nitric oxide supplements sometimes mention that the product was based on the work of "Nobel Prize-winning scientists." In reality, those scientists didn't work on food supplements, but they did discover the precise functions of NO, a feat that earned three of them the Nobel Prize in physiology in 1998.
One of those scientists, Louis J. Ignarro, a professor of pharmacology at UCLA, is the most vociferous proponent of using arginine as a means of increasing NO production in the body. In 2005 he wrote a book for the general public, No More Heart Disease, in which he suggests that increasing NO production through supplemental arginine will prevent heart attacks and strokes.
Ignarro generated much criticism from fellow academics when he developed a food supplement which combined arginine with antioxidants to prevent the premature breakdown of the nitric oxide produced from the arginine.
The research on NO is prodigious, showing that it's involved in brain neurotransmission, immune response and cardiovascular function. When NO synthesis is reduced, as occurs with several diseases, various pathologies become apparent. They include elevated blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and impotence. The discovery of the precise functions of NO led to the development of Viagra, which was initially formulated to treat high blood pressure.
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NO is ephemeral, lasting only six to 10 seconds before it's degraded. That's the reason it took so long for scientists to recognize its functions: It's a biochemical phantom. The body synthesizes NO from L-arginine using three different NO synthetase enzymes as well as folic acid and riboflavin. Both nutrients should be included in a properly designed NO supplement, yet for some reason, they rarely are.
Pump It Up
NO production in the endothelium, or lining of blood vessels, is stimulated by rapid blood flow and increased arterial pressure, as occurs during exercise.
The familiar muscle pump is, in fact, caused by that uptick in nitric oxide production for the purpose of increasing blood circulation to the working muscles. At a molecular level, NO activates the enzyme that stimulates the synthesis of cyclic GMP, which relaxes smooth muscle, such as that lining the arteries. That causes vasodilation, the expanded-blood-vessel effect.
For the complete story, get the January 2008 issue of Iron Man or visit www.ironmanmagazine.com.