Reversing Erectile Dysfunction: The Role of Nitric Oxide
Without question, erectile dysfunction is on the rise (no pun intended) as the average age of our population increases and as its overall health status decreases. Volumes have been written about the importance of nitric oxide in relation to cardiovascular disease. Indeed, three Nobel Prizes were awarded as a result of the discovery of nitric oxide solely because of its importance in the development and progression of heart disease, stroke, and hypertension. Before long, researchers discovered the role of nitric oxide in brain function and preservation and these findings continue to be published every month in peer-reviewed medical journals. This has resulted in much confusion pertaining to the role of nitric oxide in human health and physiology.
Nitric oxide seems to be involved in every physiological process, and it’s difficult at times to understand why this is and how it works. So here is a simple breakdown:
1. All cells need oxygen and nutrients. These are carried in and delivered by the bloodstream. Reduced blood perfusion to any tissue in the body will result in the destruction and eventual demise of that tissue. Adequate blood perfusion is only possible when the artery has the ability to relax and dilate (open wider). Arteries accomplish this through the use of smooth muscle that is built into the artery wall (veins, by the way, do not contain smooth muscle so therefore cannot constrict and dilate). The inner artery wall is lined by a thin film of cells called the endothelium. The endothelium produces nitric oxide in copious amounts to signal the smooth muscle of the artery wall to relax and open up, thereby increasing blood perfusion to the tissue supplied by the artery.
In short: if the body’s ability to produce nitric oxide is compromised, the arteries stay constricted and this raises blood pressure in the entire arterial system. This increased blood pressure causes damage to the endothelium, which compromises its ability to produce nitric oxide, which creates a vicious cycle that will result in heart disease and many other diseases of arterial decline.
2. The brain controls and co-ordinates every single function in the human body. It does this by relaying electrical impulses throughout the neural web, which is accomplished through the use of neurotransmitter substances such as serotonin, dopamine, acetylcholine, GABA, glutamate, etc. Neurons (brain cells) require nitric oxide production to keep themselves sensitive to neurotransmitters and to control their rate of firing (like RPM’s in a car engine). If the frequency of firing is too high (red-lining the engine) the neurons will burn out and die, resulting in neurodegeneration and demise of the brain itself. Since the brain controls and co-ordinates all bodily function, there will evident detrimental change in multiple organ systems until the entire system fails.
3. The immune system relies upon nitric oxide production to destroy invading pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi. For this reason, if nitric oxide production is impaired for any reason (such as nutritional deficiency) the immune system will be weakened and so will the body’s ability to prevent infection. Conversely, if the immune system mistakenly attacks the body, which is called autoimmunity, much of the available nitric oxide precursor will be used up in the constant onslaught against the body. In this case, the ability to produce nitric oxide in the arteries or the brain will be compromised. This represents the only scenario in which nitric oxide production is involved in a pro-inflammatory reaction. When produced by the artery wall or the nervous system the outcome is anti-inflammatory.
The information above sums up the basics of nitric oxide physiology. There are three enzymes used to produce nitric oxide internally: nNOS (brain), eNOS (artery), and iNOS (immune system). It is important to note that by age 35 our ability to produce nitric oxide is declining, and after age 40 the rate of decline accelerates fairly dramatically. This is the reason for the common observation by far too many individuals that we hear vocalized as something along the lines of: “after I turned 40, I began to fall apart.” Indeed, many anti-aging researchers now refer to diseases of aging as “diseases of nitric oxide decline”.
An abundance of peer-reviewed medical literature supports the fact that lifestyle and dietary factors that facilitate production of nitric oxide will stave off decrepitude and disease which has until now been chalked up to aging. Simple and obvious lifestyle practices such as not smoking, drinking 1-2 glasses of red wine most days of the week, eating a variety and abundance of brightly colored vegetables, and getting at least 35 minutes of aerobic exercise per day will work wonders for any individual’s ability to produce and sustain nitric oxide levels. But apart from that, those over 40 years of age need to supplement the diet with an amino acid precursor to nitric oxide production called L-citrulline. This occurs naturally in foods such as watermelon rind, but it is not feasible to obtain adequate amounts to make up for aging by pursuing it dietarily.
In addition to L-citrulline, there are several supplemental nutrients that should be included in any formula designed to enhance the body’s ability to produce nitric oxide. This will maximize the nitric oxide benefits.
Here is the list, according to the best medical literature currently available:
L-citrulline: amino acid that is used by the three enzymes present in the body to produce NO.
Huperzine A: improves the brain’s ability to handle the greater nitric oxide production. This results in improved memory, concentration, and mental stamina. Huperzine A acts as a cholinesterase inhibitor — a type of medication that works by improving the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. Small early studies suggest that Huperzine A may improve memory and protect nerve cells, which could slow the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s. A recent meta-analysis found evidence that Huperzine A may significantly improve cognitive performance in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Another study suggests that huperzine A appears to have many protective effects on the brain in addition to its role as a cholinesterase inhibitor.
Acetyl-L-Carnitine: enhances cellular energy and neurotransmitter metabolism, supporting memory, emotional health, and cognitive function. Improves the brain’s ability to handle an increased rate of firing as the nitric oxide production of the neurons increases.
Alpha GPC: passes through the blood brain barrier providing a source of choline for acetylcholine and phosphatidylcholine biosynthesis. An open, multicenter clinical trial involving 2,044 subjects indicated that alpha-GPC supports cognitive health and has excellent tolerability. Research suggests that alpha-GPC plays a role in enhancing mental function, neurological function, and memory. In a multicenter, randomized, controlled study, 261 subjects supplemented with alpha- GPC demonstrated improved neuropsychological parameters in behavioral scales and tests. Again, this will improve the brain’s ability to put enhanced nitric oxide production to proper use.
Hawthorne Extract: provides nutritional support for healthy cardiovascular function. This herb improves coronary flow, preserves and protects heart tissue, and increases the strength of myocardial contractions. It does all of this by improving the arterial production of nitric oxide.
Vinpocetine: a substance derived from the seeds of the periwinkle flower, it is absorbed by most tissues in the body and crosses the blood-brain barrier. Vinpocetine enhances healthy cerebrovascular blood flow, allowing for healthy oxygen distribution to cells. It may also support oxygen release from hemoglobin, providing cells easier access to the oxygen they need. Furthermore, studies have reported that vinpocetine may provide neuroprotection via its antioxidant properties. In a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial, 84 elderly subjects were given vinpocetine or a placebo over a period of 90 days. Results indicated that those supplementing with vinpocetine experienced positive cognitive function. An additional placebo-controlled, randomized, double-blind, multicenter trial of 203 individuals suggested that vinpocetine significantly enhanced cognition and other subjective measures. Vinpocetine has the potential to support healthy memory, as indicated by a randomized, double-blind, crossover study. When combined with L-citrulline, the enhanced oxygen perfusion and neuroprotection results in immediate and profound improvement in cellular function throughout the body.
Theobroma (cacao): Epidemiological studies suggest that high flavonoid intake found in cacao confers a benefit on cardiovascular outcome. Researchers examined the effects of flavonoid-rich cacao in dark chocolate on blood-vessel function in 17 young, healthy volunteers over a 3-hour period after they consumed 100 grams of a commercially available dark chocolate. The investigators saw that an artery in the arm dilated significantly more in response to an increase in blood flow. Cacao consumption also led to a significant 7-percent decrease in aortic stiffness. The predominant mechanism appears to be dilation of small and medium-sized peripheral arteries and arterioles. The team didn’t detect any change in antioxidant levels, so they suggest other possible
explanations. The dilatory effect of chocolate under resting conditions can be attributed to improved nitric oxide bioavailability, prostacyclin increase, the direct effect of cacao in smooth muscle cells, or activation of central mechanisms.
SOURCE: American Journal of Hypertension, June 2005.
Pomegranate: a 2006 study published in the journal Nitric Oxide, titled
“Pomegranate juice protects nitric oxide against oxidative destruction and enhances the biological actions of nitric oxide” found as its conclusion: “These observations indicate that Pomegranate possesses potent antioxidant activity that results in marked protection of Nitric Oxide against oxidative destruction, thereby resulting in augmentation of the biological actions of Nitric Oxide”.
Beet Root Powder: Beets are brimming with naturally occurring nitrates. When you eat or drink beets, a chain reaction occurs in your body that converts these nitrates into nitric oxide (NO) – a molecule that improves oxygen and blood flow throughout your body. While all vegetables contain some nitrates, an average-sized beet contains 20 times more dietary nitrates than most others, making it a top-rated veggie for producing nitric oxide. Adding some beet powder or juice to a nitric oxide supplement makes a lot of sense and is backed by plenty of scientific literature.
A word of caution
As mentioned above, there are three different enzymes that facilitate the production of nitric oxide by the brain, arteries, and immune system. If an individual is suffering from an autoimmune condition such as rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus, or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the condition symptoms can get worse with enhanced nitric oxide production. Increased nitric oxide gives the immune system the ability to produce a more robust effort to destroy bodily tissue.
If you begin supplementing with a formula designed with any or all of the above ingredients and you experience anything but significantly positive symptoms, discontinue the supplementation and inform your physician. The necessary lab tests should be run to confirm an autoimmune disorder. If you are unaware of such a condition, the supplement may end up acting as an early indicator and may save you a lot of pain or even save your life. If you already know you have an autoimmune condition, you may still often benefit from nitric oxide enhancement but the supplementation should be done when you are not experiencing a flare-up in symptoms. However, even during quiescent periods it is possible that supplementing for nitric oxide enhancement will exacerbate the pre-existing inflammatory condition. If so, simply discontinuing the supplement will be sufficient action.
So now for the good news…
If you make the appropriate lifestyle changes (when necessary), and supplement with the necessary nutrients for at least 4-6 months, your efforts will be rewarded with enhanced blood perfusion and brain function. If you have been suffering with erectile dysfunction, it is (as the drug ads say) probably a matter of blood flow. By enhancing nitric oxide production, you will enhance blood flow to all extremities, including that one. That’s exactly how Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra work: by massively increasing nitric oxide production. The problem with the meds is that they cause a sudden and massive increase in nitric oxide at the level of the artery wall which causes a dramatic dilation of the arteries in general. This may result in a sudden drop in blood pressure and, therefore, a massive stress is placed upon the heart. For this reason, many users of the drugs experience tunnel vision, dizziness, heart palpitations, and loss of consciousness. Nitric oxide enhancement through the use of supplemental precursors causes a gradual increase in nitric oxide production and quite often a reversal in the arterial demise that led to the erectile dysfunction in the first place.
Check out the data on every single nutrient listed above, and search for a product that contains most of them (you probably will not find an “all in one formula”) and begin to supplement. Get your 35 minutes of exercise, five days per week (even just a brisk walk will do) and eat more plants. Be sure to get adequate rest and try to minimize your stress.
Then just wait and see what pops up.