Nitric oxide, or NO, is a messenger molecule that plays a role in your muscular and immune systems. NO signals the smooth muscles surrounding your blood vessels to relax and dilate, increasing blood flow and relieving disorders like angina and hypertension. NO also activates cells in your immune system. Some herbs can increase nitric oxide naturally and may be helpful in treating certain disorders. Consult your health care provider before starting herbal treatment.
Herbs increase nitric oxide and benefit you in various ways. Some herbs trigger NO production and activate macrophages — a type of white blood cell involved in engulfing and digesting invading pathogens. Other herbs act as vasodilators by increasing NO in your vascular tissue. Nitric oxide has a role to play in keeping you healthy, but excess NO can have serious side effects. Check with a knowledgeable practitioner for advice about dosage and preparation of herbs that increase nitric oxide.
Goosefoot, or Chenopodium ambrosioides, is a tall herb native to Central and South America, where it’s also known as epazote. Traditional healers use the leaves, roots and flowers to treat colds, leishmaniasis, menstrual disorders, uterine fibroids and uterine hemorrhaging. The plant is rich in flavonoids, terpenes and steroids and has potent antioxidant and anticancer action. A study published in the April 2007 issue of the “Journal of Ethnopharmacology” found that a leaf extract significantly increased NO activity and activated macrophage production in test animals. The researchers conclude that goosefoot positively affects the immune system, which could explain its antitumor and antimicrobial action. Do not ingest the essential oil or use this herb during pregnancy.
Safed musli, or Chlorophytum borivilianum, is a perennial herb from Western India. Indian Ayurvedic healers use the tubers as an aphrodisiac, a nervine and a general tonic. A study published in the March 2011 issue of “Andrologia” found that safed musli significantly increased the sperm count and penile erection index in test animals. The study demonstrates the relationship between penile erection and nitric oxide. As NO allows vessel walls to relax and dilate, the increased blood flow into penile tissue improves erection. The study indicates that this herb may be useful for sexual inadequacies and improving reproductive function. Do not use this herb during pregnancy, or combine it with erectile dysfunction drugs.
Desmodium, or Desmodium gangeticum, is a perennial herb native to India. Ayurvedic healers use it as a heart tonic, and to treat upper respiratory infections, worms and indigestion. The active ingredients include alkaloids, isoflavones, pterocarpans, sterols and flavonoids, and the plant has immunomodulatory, smooth muscle relaxant, anti-inflammatory and antileishmanial actions. A study published in the June 2011 issue of the “Journal of Ethnopharmacology” found that the herb stimulates macrophages and nitric oxide production. Its effect on the immune system enhanced in vitro resistance against infection by the parasite known as Leishmania donovani, which causes the deadly disease leishmaniasis. Do not use this herb during pregnancy.