Nitric Oxide: A Unifying Principle of Health

Nitric oxide is a unifying principle behind so many things we know are good for us, like probiotics and exercising and drinking more water and eating vegetables. What these all have in common is: They increase the amount of nitric oxide in your body.

And nitric oxide has a lot of different, significantly positive effects.

We’ve got all these different diets that have been proven to help people live longer and healthier, like the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet and vegetarianism. What they have in common is an emphasis on foods that increase the amount of nitric oxide in your blood, in your cells and in your brain.

When the research first started, not many scientists thought nitric oxide was even worth looking at. Only about 40 research papers a year were being published on the subject — most of them coming from a single lab. When that lab’s scientists won the Nobel Prize for its work on nitric oxide, it electrified the scientific community. Five years later, more than 7,500 papers a year were being published about nitric oxide.

The number of things scientists have discovered that improve when you have more nitric oxide in your body is really impressive. People sleep better, they have more energy, they’re in better moods, they have less heart disease, less cancer, and have a better long-term memory. Nitric oxide plays an important role in your immune system — it kills bacteria and viruses and promotes the healing of wounds and injuries. It also helps people lose weight by stimulating the burning of fat. It keeps the veins free of plaque. It can delay or even prevent atherosclerosis. It makes your blood vessels dilate, which lowers your blood pressure. It increases blood flow, increasing endurance and strength.

One of the men who won the Nobel Prize (for discovering the effect nitric oxide has inside the human body) said he believes heart disease can be essentially eliminated by doing things that keep your nitric oxide level high. That’s a big statement from someone with his credentials.

Nitric oxide also functions as a neurotransmitter, helping to process nerve signals as they cross synapses.

The first thing researchers discovered is that nitric oxide dilates blood vessels, which means it relaxes the smooth muscle cells that line arteries, veins and lymphatic channels, allowing blood, nutrients, and oxygen to flow more easily through your body. Nitric oxide also prevents blood clotting, so it reduces the chance of heart attacks and strokes. It can lower your cholesterol level. It also prevents bad cholesterol from oxidizing into even worse artery-clogging forms. It lowers the risk of diabetes.

It also triggers the pituitary gland to release human growth hormone, which stimulates your body to build and repair and heal your muscle, bone and skin.

Nitric oxide is a signaling compound. The body uses it as a communication device. The strange thing is that it's a gas. It is released by your body into your body as a gas. That’s why it was hard to discover — the molecule’s life span is only a second or two.

There are many different pathways for raising the amount of nitric oxide in your body. For example, some foods, like spinach and beets, contain a high amount of nitrite and nitrate, which your body can convert into nitric oxide. Some of that conversion occurs in your mouth by probiotic bacteria in your saliva.

When you drink enough water, it helps the enzymes that convert a particular amino acid (L-Arginine) into nitric oxide do their job more effectively. So by drinking more water, it raises your nitric oxide level.

Some foods (like pumpkin seeds) contain more of that protein, L-Arginine, than others. If you eat more of that protein, you’ll have more of the raw material your body needs to make nitric oxide. Some foods (like watermelon) contain L-citrulline, which helps make the enzyme that your body uses to convert L-Arginine into nitric oxide. Some foods like blueberries and cherries contain anthocyanins, which prevent nitric oxide from being oxidized too quickly, which allows it to have more of a positive effect on your body.

When you exercise moderately, it stimulates your body to produce more nitric oxide. If you exercise too vigorously, it produces too many free radicals, and actually lowers the amount of nitric oxide in your body.

Fasting stimulates your body to produce nitric oxide.

Just about anything known to be good for you probably increases nitric oxide in your body. Turmeric, for example, raises the amount of nitric oxide in your body. Leafy green vegetables contain a high amount of nitrite and nitrate that your body can convert into nitric oxide. Apples contain polyphenols that help your saliva convert those nitrates and nitrites into nitric oxide.

Here’s an interesting tidbit: Since there is bacteria in your saliva that convert nitrate and nitrite into nitric oxide, when you use a mouthwash, it lowers the amount of nitric oxide in your body.

Here’s another one: Caffeine increases your blood vessels’ output of nitric oxide.

Are you as intrigued about this as I am? It all sounds good, of course, but is it safe? Can you have too much nitric oxide?

Louis Ignarro, the man I mentioned above, who won the Nobel Prize (along with two of his colleagues), said: "At extraordinarily high concentrations, nitric oxide is toxic. These levels, however, cannot be reached through the body’s internal mechanisms for producing nitric oxide from either food and supplement intake or from exercise. At relatively low levels within the body — the kind that can be attained through foods, supplements, and exercise — nitric oxide can dramatically influence our health in positive ways."

I mentioned that all the diets known to reduce heart disease and cancer have nitric oxide in common, but not all the foods in those diets are high in nitric oxide. So this discovery allows us to be more precise with our diet. There are other factors in food that are good for you, of course, but a big one has been hidden because it’s a gas, and now that we know about it, we can make even better choices.

It’s worth looking into and Ignarro's book — No More Heart Disease — is a good place to start.

Listen to this article as a podcast by clicking here.

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

If I Was Happy About This, What Would I Be Thinking About It?

The following is part of a series called Direct Your Mind. Good questions can be used effectively to direct your mind so you're using your mind to work for you rather than against you. Read more here about how to use the technique.

Sometimes it’s easier to ask this version: “If someone else, more capable and wiser than me was happy about this, what would that person be thinking about it?”

Your car breaks down, it’s pouring rain, and you’re late for an important interview. Of course this is miserable. One possible and perfectly understandable reaction you could have is to throw a fit of rage. To freak out. To cry, scream, curse the gods.

But when you’re all done and you’ve made your phone calls and you’re waiting for the tow truck to arrive, you can explore your mind by imagining this same set of circumstances, but imagine that somehow you are happy about it. What would you have to be thinking to be happy about it?

Have I gone overboard here? Is this pie-in-the-sky positive thinking on steroids? How can anybody be happy in those circumstances? Why would anyone even want to be happy in those circumstances?

The why is easy: You’ll feel better and get more done. It will do you no good at all to feel miserable. What’s done is done. You are in those circumstances, no matter how you feel about them. And negative emotions are generally hard on you. Anytime you can remove unnecessary negative emotions from your life, you’ve benefited your health.

And you will respond to things better, you’ll be more creative at solving problems, and you will treat people you love with more care and respect if you feel better. The way you feel has real consequences.

So that takes care of the why. Let’s look at the how. How could a person feel happy under those circumstances? Broken-down car, rain, late for meeting. You can’t do it by forcing yourself, I can tell you that. You cannot force yourself to feel good. Why? Because forcing yourself doesn’t feel good.

But you could have a different perspective on your situation. You could look at it differently, and thereby feel differently. You could be only mildly upset about it, you could be not bothered at all about it, or you could actually feel happy — you could feel good about your circumstances. All it takes is a little creativity on your part.

Your answers to the question depend on you and your circumstances. If I was in that circumstance, for example (with the rain and late for an appointment, etc.), these are some of the things I would have to be thinking if I was happy about it: “I’m glad this happened to me and not my wife. I’m glad this happened when I was in the slow lane and could get off the road without causing an accident. It will be interesting to find out how the interviewer responds to my missing the meeting (sort of like a test of character), and it might make a good real-life illustration to use on the rescheduled interview. I’m glad this happened because since I’ve been sitting here waiting for the tow truck I’ve had time to reflect on the fact that I was running late already, and perhaps my own greed needs to be curbed — I’m trying to stuff too much into my days and I’m past the point where it is fun. I need to slow the pace and make it more fun. I’m glad this event has given me time to reflect and readjust my priorities.”

And so on. You get the idea. The more you think about it, the more there is to be happy about. It’s also true that the more you think about it, the more things you could think of to be miserable about, but the question is: Which do you choose? Because it really is your choice, and your choice will have consequences one way or the other.

Another alternative way to ask this question is: “What would I like to feel about this?” And then after you get the answer to that one, ask: “What would I have to think about it in order to feel that way?”

I once had an appointment with the dentist for the following day, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. So I asked, “What do I want to feel?” Of course, my answer was, I wanted to be glad I was going to the dentist, or at least no longer feel dread.

My next question was, “What would I have to think that would make me feel good in these circumstances?”

One of my answers was, “I would have to think I was grateful that I live in a time and place that has dentists to take care of my teeth.” I thought about other places and times (all of human history except the very recent) when people got painful cavities, lost their teeth, and suffered tremendous agony because they did not have dentists, because dentistry hadn’t even been invented, or it was only for the rich or whatever, and here I was ungratefully wishing I didn’t have to go.

And the truth is, I didn’t have to go. It was my privilege to be able to go. I felt glad about going, and no longer dreaded it.

And I changed my attitude by beginning with the simple question, “What would I like to feel?” 

Okay, you have a bad feeling, but what would you like to feel? And then go on from there and ponder the question, “What could I think about the situation that would result in that feeling?”

Also note that I changed the way I looked at it and felt better without fooling myself or trying to believe something I didn’t really believe, or trying to force myself to feel any particular way. I felt better honestly and genuinely by looking at the real situation with a broader perspective than I had been using.

It’s important not to do this questioning with a forcing attitude, or in a hurry. Just ponder it like you’re daydreaming. Just wonder about it. Imagine you’re in a hammock drinking a lemonade. Imagine it’s a lazy summer afternoon and you have absolutely nothing to do but enjoy the cool breeze. Imagine you’ve got all day to lie around and daydream. Then ask the question in a relaxed, curious way. Imagine you’re pondering the question for your own amusement and nothing more.

Questions direct your mind. And this question is a great way to generate whole new trains of thought that will lead you to better feelings (and better health): If I was happy about this, what would I be thinking about it?

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal GrowthSlotralogyAntivirus For Your Mindand co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English)Follow his podcasts, The Adam Bomb and Talk to Klassy. You can email him here.

What Am I Grateful For?

You can come up with different answers to this question every day, and if you did, you’d be happier, according to the research. One study on gratefulness asked the participants to merely write for five minutes a day in a diary — to write about what they were grateful for. It made them measurably happier, and their improved moods lasted for a considerable time afterward.

Five minutes a day? Why would such a small thing have such a strong impact?

When you ask what you’re grateful for, you’re using the power of comparison. To feel grateful for your good health you would have to compare your health to a worse state of health.

Also, your brain has a negative bias. It tends to focus on what’s wrong. The question, “What am I grateful for?” bypasses the negative bias, or uses it to your advantage rather than using it against you.

Ask the question, find an answer, and ask it again. What else are you grateful for? I sometimes do it using a timer. I set the timer for five minutes and write a list of things I am grateful for, and I always feel significantly better afterward. At first I was surprised how easy it was to fill a page with things I’m grateful for. I hardly have to try. I write nonstop, and have a pretty big list at the end of five minutes. This is so simple and so powerful I really urge you to try this one. It’s not work. It’s not a chore. It feels good.

Another variation that works pretty well is: What could I feel great about if I wanted to?

Another variation: What do I appreciate about (a particular person)? This is a good one to write down. When you’re done, give it to the person, or even go so far as to read it to them.

When you would like to direct your mind to something positive, when you’d like to feel better, when you would like to be aware of what is great about your life, ask yourself, “What am I grateful for?” It works every time.

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth
SlotralogyAntivirus For Your Mindand co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English)Follow his podcasts, The Adam Bomb and Talk to Klassy. You can email him here.

Top Seven Reasons Why Raising Your Mood is a Good Idea

You want a better mood, and you probably have your own reasons. But there may be other sound reasons to pursue this worthy purpose that you haven't thought about before. So here are what I believe to be the seven best reasons to put in the effort to improve your mood:

1. Good moods are good for your heart. A good mood is the antithesis of stress. And frequent stress is hard on the heart. An optimistic outlook and a good attitude are positively good for the health of your heart — not just metaphorically, but physically.

2. Good moods improve your relationships.
It is easier and more enjoyable to converse with, hug, take a trip with, or anything else with someone in a good mood. It's easier to work out problems with someone in a good mood. One good way to improve a relationship is to improve your mood.

3. Your good moods help others become happier.
Far from being a selfish pursuit, raising your own mood is one of the best things you can do for others.

4. Good moods make you more creative.
Before they were given the problem to solve, students were first put in either a bad mood or a good mood. Afterwards, 20% of the students in a bad mood successfully solved the problem. But 75% of the students in a good mood were able to do it. Good moods help you cope with difficult situations and improve your ability to solve problems, which improves your mood, creating an upward spiral.

5. Good moods make your immune system more vigorous.
When you're in a good mood, your T-cells and NK-cells are more effective at killing off invaders and stopping the proliferation of cancer cells. And bad moods are bad for your immune system.

6. Good moods help you live longer.
Having a good attitude and being in a good mood can add over seven years to your life.

7. Good moods feel good.
Let's not forget about this one! Bad moods feel bad and good moods feel great.

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth
SlotralogyAntivirus For Your Mindand co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English)Follow his podcasts, The Adam Bomb and Talk to Klassy. You can email him here.

How Negative Thinking Can Make You Feel Better

When you're angry or in a bad mood or upset, it doesn't work very well to try to be positive. Your whole mind-set is against it.

But you can get out of your bad mood with a special kind of negative thinking. It is the key technique of Cognitive Therapy (the most effective therapy available, according to over 600 studies).

Here it is: Criticize your own thinking. Be negative about your own mistaken, exaggerated, distorted thoughts. The fact is, when you're upset, your thinking becomes irrational, and your negative (and false) conclusions keep you upset (or make it worse).

Read more: How to Genuinely Feel Less Angry

What's So Great About Fasting? - Season 1, Episode 28 of the Adam Bomb Podcast

In this episode, Adam discusses some of the benefits of going without food, and talks about some of the interesting studies that have been done on it. He also mentions a few things he's learned about doing it himself that might help make your fasts easier.

Listen to The Adam Bomb podcast here:

Having the Time

I was reading a true story about a Norwegian soldier who had been put out of action by frostbite and was confined to a small sled in the middle of the Arctic wilderness. Some friends were hiding him from the German soldiers who were occupying Norway. He was alone for twenty-seven days except for a short visit by someone about every three or four days. He had a book with him, but he didn’t read much of it during those twenty-seven days. He “never seemed to have the time.”

When I read that last line, it jolted me awake and has been bugging me ever since. Do you understand why? Here was a man who couldn’t walk, who was confined to a sleeping bag in the middle of a silent, snow-covered, completely uninhabited area in the Arctic, and he was too busy to read. What’s wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong is the same thing that’s wrong with you and me. We’re too busy. You are, aren’t you? Yeah, so am I. Short of time. More things to do than you have time to do. Always trying to catch up.

But what has been dawning on me with a certain degree of irony and ridiculousness is that my lack of time is completely created by me.

There is no shortage of time. There is only the greedy effort to get more from our days than we can, while at the same time greedily wanting to also spend some of that time in leisure.

It’s silly. And it’s tragic. It costs us the experience of living. Time seems to fly by. Wow, where did those last ten years go? Were we so busy getting things done we forgot to enjoy our own lives?

Let’s just relax, shall we? Let’s quit trying to do so much. We don’t have to get all that stuff done. We don’t have to be perfect parents — kids have been raised by imperfect parents for a long time and still turned out okay. We don’t have to be perfect at anything. We don’t have to do it all. And we don’t have to be happier. But when we realize we don’t have to cram so much into our days, we will be.

Excerpted from the book, Principles For Personal Growth.