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Nitric Oxide and the Immune System

Your immune system performs an amazing job of defending the body against invasion by disease-causing microbes and cancer cells. Yet, sometimes it fails, resulting in more infections and cancers. This becomes more common with advancing age. You may know that you can boost the immune system, but do you know how to do it effectively? Temporary deficiency of the immune system is linked to reduced levels of nitric oxide in the body. You can basically reverse it by deliberately taking steps to increase your levels of nitric oxide.

Importance of a properly functioning immune system

A properly functioning immune system is very important for survival. Its main purpose is to protect the body from viruses, bacteria and yeasts. As you come into contact with pathogens from pets, bugs, people and the environment, your strong immune system works quietly to prevent infection. If you are infected it fights the infection. Without a functional immune system, you would be sick each time you came into contact with pathogens.

The secondary purpose of the immune system is to destroy cancer cells and any other foreign bodies. The system works by differentiating your body cells from alien cells, and destroying anything that is potentially harmful. Here we share how different components of the immune system work.

The skin is the first line of defence. It is a physical barrier that keeps bacteria and viruses out of the body.

Tears and saliva are anti-bacterial substances that can neutralise any invaders.

Mucus, a layer of anti-bacterial, sticky substance in the nasal passages and lungs, catches germs and stops them from entering your bloodstream.

Gut microbiome. The gut contains trillions of good bacteria which play a big role in controlling the population of bad bacteria, viruses and yeasts by destroying them. Between 70% and 80% of the immune system is in the gut.

Bone marrow produces white blood cells that destroy disease-causing bacteria and viruses. The main three types of white blood cells are lymphocytes (T-cells and B-cells), granulocytes and monocytes.

The spleen filters the blood, stores white blood cells and helps to fight bacteria (e.g. the type that cause meningitis and pneumonia) as part of its immune function.

The thymus gland is where T-cells (disease-fighting cells) mature. However, it is more active in children than in adults.

Lymphatic vessels carry lymph, a clear fluid that contains immune system cells and distributes them to all parts of the body.

Lymph nodes contain white blood cells that work by detecting and removing bacteria, viruses and cancer cells in cell fluid. This is why they swell temporarily during infection.

When the immune system malfunctions

When your immune system doesn't work properly, you have an immune system disorder. You may have:

  • Primary immune deficiency, meaning that you were born with a weak immune system. Severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID)is one such condition.
  • Acquired immune deficiency, meaning that you got a disease that weakens the immune system temporarily (e.g. measles or the flu) or permanently (e.g. HIV.
  • An overactive immune system, which may happen with an allergic reaction.
  • An autoimmune disease.

Effects of immune system disorders

When the immune system is deficient, you get too many infections that most people can fight off. You may even fail to fight off an infection and die. You may also develop cancer. When you have an autoimmune disease, the immune system attacks your own cells and damages organs and you develop problems like lupus, type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. With an overactive immune system, you react to one or more substances and may suffer from allergic rhinitis, asthma and eczema. In any of these disorders, you are sick all the time and your life can be miserable.

The role of nitric oxide in immune system

Illicit drugs, alcohol, stress, certain medications (e.g. chemotherapy drugs and meds that prevent organ rejection), lack of exercise, measles, flu viruses, poor nutrition and cigarette smoking interfere with the production of nitric oxide in the body. That is one of the ways they affect immunity.

Nitric oxide is an invisible gas that is produced in almost every cell in the body and plays a multi-functional role within the body. It is one of the major factors that affect the function of the immune system.

In 1987, when research on nitric oxide was still new, the gas was found to destroy Schistosoma mansoni schistosomula, a parasite. Later, in another study, it was found to be involved in the destruction of cancer cells. A lot of research followed and, by 1999, NO was fully established as an important modulator in the immune system.

NO is now known to be one of the most multipurpose players in the immune system. It is involved in the biological mechanisms that lead to the development of autoimmune processes, infections, tumors, and chronic degenerative diseases. It is also involved in the control of the same diseases.

Nitric oxide works with a wide variety of reaction partners, it is produced through three different NO synthases, and its activity is strongly influenced by its concentration. Therefore, not enough is known about how it works in the immune system. What is known is that its deficiency in the body leads to poor function of the immune system.

Consciously improve production of Nitric oxide

It is very important for the immune system to function optimally. If you have been using substances that affect the immune system, and your immunity is low, then be aware that your production of nitric oxide is low. Luckily, you can increase the levels of NO in the body.

  1. First stop smoking if you smoke. Stop illicit drugs if you use them. Reduce or stop the intake of alcohol.
  2. Take dietary supplements that contain L-arginine and L-citrulline which are raw materials for the production of nitric oxide.
  3. Increase the intake of fruits and vegetables such as dark leafy greens and beetroot which contain nitrates which are another raw material for nitric oxide production.
  4. Become more active and deal with your stress.




1. Nitric oxide as a signaling molecule: Nitric oxide (NO) is an essential signaling molecule in the immune system, playing a vital role in regulating immune responses.

2. Macrophage activation: NO is produced by macrophages, a type of white blood cell, in response to pathogens. This helps to activate other immune cells, promoting an effective immune response.

3. Antimicrobial action: NO has direct antimicrobial effects against various pathogens, including bacteria, fungi, and parasites. It can damage their DNA, proteins, and cell membranes, leading to their inactivation or death.

4. Inflammation modulation: NO helps regulate inflammation by controlling the production of pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines. This aids in maintaining a balanced immune response, preventing excessive tissue damage.

5. Immune cell communication: NO is involved in the communication between immune cells. It helps modulate the activation and function of T cells, B cells, and dendritic cells, crucial components of the immune system.

6. Blood vessel dilation: NO aids in vasodilation, the widening of blood vessels. This increases blood flow, allowing immune cells to reach infection sites more efficiently and enhancing the overall immune response.

7. Promoting apoptosis: NO can induce apoptosis, or programmed cell death, in infected or damaged cells. This helps to remove harmful cells while minimizing damage to healthy tissues.

8. Regulation of immune cell migration: NO plays a role in guiding immune cells to sites of infection or injury. It influences the expression of adhesion molecules and chemokines, which direct immune cell movement.

9. Tumor suppression: NO has been shown to have anti-tumor properties, including inhibiting cancer cell proliferation and promoting cancer cell death. It can also enhance the activity of natural killer cells, which target and destroy cancer cells.

10. Therapeutic potential: The importance of NO in the immune system has led to research on its potential as a therapeutic target. Drugs designed to modulate NO production or activity may have applications in treating infections, autoimmune diseases, and even cancer.

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

Nitric Oxide

We've created a Nitric Oxide boosting supplement with a combination of ingredients required by our bodies to produce optimal amounts of nitric oxide. Our supplement comes as an easy to mix, great tasting powder, offering a therapeutic dose in each scoop. Learn more about it here.

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Ron Goedeke MD, BSc Hons MBChB, FNZCAM

Dr. Ron Goedeke, an expert in the domain of functional medicine, dedicates his practice to uncovering the root causes of health issues by focusing on nutrition and supplement-based healing and health optimisation strategies. An esteemed founding member of the New Zealand College of Appearance Medicine, Dr. Goedeke's professional journey has always been aligned with cutting-edge health concepts.

Having been actively involved with the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine since 1999, he brings over two decades of knowledge and experience in the field of anti-aging medicine, making him an eminent figure in this evolving realm of healthcare. Throughout his career, Dr. Goedeke has been steadfast in his commitment to leverage appropriate nutritional guidance and supplementation to encourage optimal health.

This has allowed him to ascend as one of the most trusted authorities in the arena of nutritional medicine in New Zealand. His expertise in the intricate relationship between diet, nutritional supplements, and overall health forms the backbone of his treatment approach, allowing patients to benefit from a balanced and sustainable pathway to improved wellbeing.

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.

Last updated on the 28th of April 2023

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