Nitric oxide is a naturally-occurring compound in the body and is also available as a performance-boosting supplement for athletes. Nitric oxide supplements are typically used to increase cardiovascular endurance and reduce recovery time from injury, but they can also improve cardiovascular wellness and bone and joint health, as well as increase the ability to perform learning and memory tasks.
Nitric oxide is primarily recognized for its role as a vasodilator in the cardiovascular system -- the compound acts to relax the walls of blood vessels throughout the body, thereby increasing blood flow and preventing the development of high blood pressure. The compound also slows the development of cardiovascular disease by preventing the formation of plaque on the inner walls of blood vessels. Finally, nitric oxide is important in maintaining effective pumping action of the heart; if there is not enough nitric oxide present, the heart may not pump efficiently enough to deliver blood to all parts of the body.
Learning and Memory
Nitric oxide acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain and is especially important in learning and memory tasks that take place specifically in the hypothalamus. Nitric oxide is synthesized in the brain upon demand and can be used in cognitive tasks immediately after being formed. Research published in 2011 in the "Indian Journal of Medical Research" shows that nitric oxide is especially active in the hypothalamus during cognitive tasks regarding spacial learning and avoidance behaviors. This phenomenon is likely because nitric oxide acts to support neural function by increasing blood flow to brain tissues, enhancing cellular health and facilitating optimal function of neural tissues.
Bone Remodeling and Healing
Nitric oxide is important in the regulation of bone formation and breakdown and is normally released by bone cells when mechanical stress is applied to the bones during weight-bearing activities. Nitric oxide supplementation can help to improve bone density by enhancing bone formation and reducing the extent of bone breakdown. The compound's effect on bones is improved when used in combination with supplements such as vitamin D, calcitonin, and biphosphonates. Nitric oxide is also key in fracture healing and acts to cue local bone cells to start the healing process as well as increasing blood flow to the area of injury.
Reduced Joint Pain
Joint pain often causes major limitations in function for people who have osteoarthritis. Research published in 2008 in the journal "Arthritis Research and Therapy" shows that nitric oxide plays a role in perception of pain and can be used as a useful pain management tool while managing the symptoms of osteoarthritis. Likely mechanisms of joint pain reduction by nitric oxide include increased blood flow, reduction of nerve irritation and reduction of inflammation in the joint space. Nitric oxide might also be useful in maintaining the health of existing cartilage cells in the joint space and could be a useful tool in joint protection and in minimizing further cartilage damage secondary to osteoarthritis.