Nitric Oxide and Memory Function

Do you sometimes go into a room at home and forget what you want there? When you return to what you were doing earlier, do you remember what you wanted in the other room? That is short-term memory loss. It is quite common as people grow older. It’s inconvenient but it doesn’t affect life that much. However, if you or a loved one forget faces, places, names and even events that happened recently, that is a more serious memory lossthat can only get worse. Some types of memory loss are linked to injury and they heal slowly. Other types are linked to nitric oxide shortage and can be corrected by increasing nitric oxide production in the body.

Advantages of good memory

Even in this age of outsourcing our memory to smartphones and computers, there are advantages to having good memory. These include the ability to:

  • Remember the past with clarity. This enables older people to remember their life lessons and experiences and pass them on to their children and grandchildren.
  • Remember what has happened in the short term, which makes the performing of daily tasks easier.
  • Learn new things. The more information you have in your memory, the more connections you can make between related facts, and the more new things you can learn quickly.
  • Retain a huge amount of knowledge and be known for being knowledgeable.
  • Remember names and personal details about other people in social settings. This makes conversations, gift-giving and other social interactions easier.
  • Remember jokes and be funny in family and social gatherings.
  • Become creative especially in learning situations.

Disadvantages of memory loss

Losing the ability to remember has a huge impact on the quality of life. It means an elderly person can forget how to get home from the shops or that a parent forgets his/her children and family memories, making family visits painful and empty. The person who loses memory becomes frustrated and worried, may lose self-confidence, may be embarrassed enough to withdraw from social situations and may stop doing the things they usually do. This leads to isolation and loneliness. When a person with memory loss can’t find things, he/she can accuse those around of moving or stealing things. This can be frustrating for family and friends.

Causes of memory malfunction

Head injury and stroke are common causes of memory loss but sufferers normally recover. Other memory loss is linked to deficiency of nitric oxide as discussed below.

Medications. Some prescription and over-the-counter medications cause loss of memory. These include: antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, muscle relaxants, antihistamines, and post-surgery pain medications. Some of them reduce/destroy the ability to produce nitric oxide in the brain which affects the health of blood vessels. Reduced blood flow to the brain starves it of oxygen and nutrients and this affects memory and other cognitive abilities.

Smoking harms memory by reducing the brain’s ability to produce nitric oxide. This affects blood vessel function, reduces blood flow to the brain and starve it of oxygen and nutrients. Studies have confirmed that smokers struggle to link faces with names than do non-smokers.

Illegal drugs can change brain chemicals, making it hard to recall memories.

Excessive alcohol intake has been known for a long time to cause memory loss.

Nutritional deficiency. Deficiencies in nitrates lead to insufficient production of nitric oxide. This affects the health of blood vessels in the brain leading to insufficient oxygen and nutrients in the brain. Also, deficiencies in protein, healthy fats, vitamin B1 and B12 specifically affect memory function.

Stress and anxiety make it difficult to concentrate and lock in new information and skills, causing memory problems in the short term. Chronic stress and anxiety lead to defective nitric oxide activity in the brain. This obstructs the formation of new memories and the retrieval of old ones.

Epilepsy and diabetes cause defective nitric oxide activity in the brain and stop the creation of new memories and make it difficult to remember old things.

How optimal NO levels improve memory

Luckily, if damage from a nitric oxide deficiency is mild, memory can be improved by increasing the production of nitric oxide.

Animal studies have discovered the synthesis of nitric oxide in the brain, and its role in a variety of brain and nerve functions. Its role includes learning, memory creation, blood vessel dilation, memory retrieval, immune response, food intake, cortical arousal, perception of dangerous stimuli, penile erection and yawning. Scientists found that NO is synthesized in the brain upon demand in these situations and is used immediately. It is never stored. Recent scientific evidence also suggests that NO affects short-term memory traces.

As far as scientists know, nitric oxide is synthesised from nitrates which are available in fruits, beetroot and dark green leafy vegetables. It is also synthesised from L-arginine and L-citrulline, amino acids that the body synthesises but are also available in food.

The increased nitric oxide in the body can then relax/dilate blood vessels, stop the clumping together of blood platelets, stop the formation of plaque in the blood vessels, and improve blood flow. Improved blood flow into the brain then improves the oxygen and nutrient supply to the brain. This improves memory and overall brain function.

Increasing nitric oxide formation will also prevent any damage that may be caused by prescription and non-prescription drugs. However, it is wise to also stop smoking and reduce alcohol intake because the substances cause too much harm.

Optimise NO to improve memory function

If you have been experiencing memory loss, it is quite possible that there is deficiency of nitric oxide due to any of the causes mentioned above. To reverse the problem, you can take NO-producing dietary supplements such as those containing L-arginine and L-citrulline. If your memory functions well and you simply want to maintain it, you can increase your intake of fruits, beetroot, and dark green leafy vegetables for their nitrate content. You can also increase intake of proteins such as red meat, turkey, dairy, beans, soy beans, and chicken that contain L-arginine and L-citrulline. These amino acids are precursors to nitric oxide production.

Nitric Oxide Information

For more everything you need to know about nitric oxide and the role it plays in the human body, check out our comprehensive information page here.

Nitric Oxide Information


Ron Goedeke MD, BSc Hons MBChB, FNZCAM

Dr Ron Goedeke, specialises in alternative and functional medicine. He is a foundation member of the New Zealand college of Appearance medicine and has been a member of the American Academy of Anti-aging medicine since 1999. With over 20 years of experience in the anti-aging field, Dr Ron Goedeke is recognized as one of New Zealand’s leaders in this new and growing field of medicine.

Disclaimer: The information provided is for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified healthcare provider with any questions or concerns about your health. Never disregard or delay seeking medical advice because of something you have heard or read on this website.

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