Nitric Oxide and Optimal Digestion

The digestive tract, the gut, influences the health of the whole body through the digestion of food, absorption of nutrients, elimination of waste, and control of the immune system. The digestive tract is sensitive to what is put into it, yet it is taken for granted and never considered until it malfunctions. People eat and drink anything ad then, when there is pain and other types of discomfort, they take anti-acids and other drugs for relief. People also take many drugs orally in order to relieve many acute and chronic conditions. The result is a very upset and dysfunctional digestive tract. When other health problems arise elsewhere in the body, sufferers can hardly connect them to the condition of the gut.

How the gut is damaged

The treatment for osteoarthritis involves chronic use of selective or nonselective nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs (alone or with low-dose aspirin) have been found to cause gut complications such as upper gastrointestinal bleeding.

The use of mouthwash to kill bacteria in the mouth and antibiotics for infections kill the good and the bad bacteria in the gut, causing imbalance of the gut microbiome and failure to produce enough NO.

Taking anti-acids to relieve stomach pain and proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) for acid reflux completely shuts down NO production, which causes many diseases of the digestive tract and several chronic conditions. Unfortunately, these meds are available over the counter even though they are not supposed to be used in the long term.

Foods that contain gluten (e.g. wheat products) and casein (dairy products) cause allergic reactions, leaky gut syndrome and inflammatory conditions.

Effects of nitric oxide deficiency on digestive health

Gut and mouth bacteria are involved in the production of nitric oxide. When they have been destroyed by mouth wash and antibiotics, nitric oxide production is reduced. Deficiency of NO leads to diseases of the digestive tract.

Deficiency of NO seems to be involved in the development of toxic megacolon, and high blood pressure in the portal vein (the vein that carries blood from the digestive organs to the liver).

Deficiency of NO causes pyloric sphincters and bowel segments to fail to relax and this interferes with movement of food. This may later lead to the development of achalasia (a disorder which makes it difficult to swallow food and liquids) and Hirschprung’s disease.

The imbalance in the gut microbiome may lead to gastric ulcers as bad bacteria flourish.

The blood vessels in the mucosa fail to dilate, and this interferes with the absorption of nutrients into the blood, leading to malnutrition.

How nitric oxide improves gut health

The digestive system produces a huge percentage of all the nitric oxide produced in the body through enzymatic, non-enzymatic and bacterial production mechanisms. It is known to play a major role in the digestive function through:

  • The regulation of the pyloric sphincter as food moves through the gut.
  • Modulation of the muscle tone of the digestive system, which includes regulation of peristalsis in the intestines, gastric emptying and the activity of the antrum (lower part of the stomach).
  • Protection of the gut against different types of aggressive agents.
  • Regulation of blood flow in the mucous membranes of the gut.
  • The control of liver function.
  • Regulation of pancreatic secretion.
  • Defence of the body through the immune system processes.
  • The physiological regulation of organ repair and integrity of the tissues.
  • The regulation of acid secretion, gastric mucus secretion and alkaline production.
  • Absorption of nutrients into the blood stream.
  • Elimination of waste.
  • Promoting ulcer healing. In studies of rats suffering from stress-induced gastric injury, pre-treatment with NO donors managed to reduce gastric lesions and increase gastric blood flow.
  • Regulation of motor activity of the small intestines during fasting.
  • Its various activities as a neurotransmitter.
  • Stimulation of nerve reflexes and interactions with other agents.

There are many other ways in which nitric oxide works in the digestive tract which scientists still need to understand and explain.

Benefits of increasing nitric oxide in the GI tract

The information above shows that alot is now known about the role of nitric oxide in the digestive tract and a lot more still need to be discovered. Since deficiency of NO leads to many digestive problems, the problems can be solved by increasing production of nitric oxide in the body. If you eat foods rich in nitrates and L-arginine or take NO-producing supplements, you can reverse or prevent many digestive system illnesses and restore the health of the digestive system.

Nitric oxide protects the gut. Some preclinical studies indicated that it helps to repair NSAID-induced damage and maintain the integrity of the mucous membrane layer of the stomach. Some medical studies have found that combining NSAIDs or aspirin with NO-donating agents reduces the risk of bleeding in the stomach and intestines. The same protective properties were found in NSAIDs that contain NO-donating agents, which also worked by reducing inflammation.

NO prevents ulcers in the gut. In one animal study, NO donor called molsidomine managed to prevent ischemia/reperfusion injury of rats’ small intestines.

Nitric oxide accelerates healing of ulcers through various actions. One way is by boosting collagen production by fibroblasts which accelerates healing. The other way is to effectively improve blood flow in the mucosa to accelerate healing. It also encourages the development of new blood vessels in the mucosa and regeneration of the mucosa to heal ulcers, as confirmed in one study. Already, many pharmaceutical companies are leveraging the benefits of nitric oxide for ulcers by adding NO-donating groups to existing NSAIDs used for ulcers.

Nitric oxide reduces inflammation. Studies have found that it protects the GI tract by reducing inflammation which it does by reducing the release of some inflammatory mediators from mast cells.

Bottom line

Is the health of your digestive tract not as good as it should be? Increase the production of nitric oxide by eating foods that are rich in nitrates and foods that contain L-arginine (an amino acid that produces NO) or by taking NO-producing supplements.

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

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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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