Nasal Breathing: Exploring the Proposed Nitric Oxide Connection
Breathing techniques tend to focus on inhaling ample air into the lungs. But the pathway air takes to enter the body may also impact health. Some research suggests nasal breathing boosts production of nitric oxide, a compound that relaxes blood vessels for better circulation. This article reviews the evidence around nasal breathing and nitric oxide.
What is Nitric Oxide?
Nitric oxide is a gaseous signaling molecule synthesized throughout the body. It performs a variety of key functions related to vascular health.
When inhaled into the lungs or produced by cells lining the blood vessels, nitric oxide triggers smooth muscle relaxation in the walls of arteries and veins. This prompts vasodilation – the widening of blood vessels.
Relaxed, dilated blood vessels allow more oxygen-rich blood to flow to tissues and organs. Nitric oxide helps regulate blood pressure, increase blood flow, and optimize delivery of oxygen and nutrients. It’s necessary for cardiovascular function.
How Nasal Breathing May Boost Nitric Oxide
Studies indicate that breathing through the nose may increase nitric oxide production compared to mouth breathing.
The nasal cavity is lined with nitric oxide-releasing cells. As inhaled air passes through the sinuses and nasal passages, the aerodynamics and air pressure may trigger extra nitric oxide generation.
Mouth breathing bypasses this nitric oxide boosting process by taking air directly into the throat and lungs instead. Researchers have found individuals who nasal breathe exhibit higher nitric oxide levels than mouth breathers.
Potential Benefits of Elevated Nitric Oxide
If nasal breathing does raise nitric oxide concentrations, what effects may result? Possible benefits include:
- Improved circulation – More oxygen-rich blood reaches bodily tissues.
- Lower blood pressure – Vasodilation reduces strain on arteries.
- Faster wound healing – Enhanced blood flow increases delivery of nutrients and white blood cells.
- Better exercise performance – Extra oxygen, glucose and nutrients get to working muscles.
- Reduced pulmonary hypertension – Dilated vessels decrease pressure in lung arteries.
- Stronger immune function – Improved circulation provides immune cells access to sites of infection.
In these ways, the nitric oxide boost from nasal breathing could potentially enhance vascular and overall health.
Limitations of Current Research
While an intriguing theory, there are limitations to the existing research:
- Most evidence comes from smaller studies – Larger randomized controlled trials are still needed.
- Exact nitric oxide level changes are unclear – Available data on concentration differences is limited.
- It’s unknown if increases are clinically meaningful – Nitric oxide bumps may be too small to provide health advantages.
- Many factors influence nitric oxide – Diet, activity level, medications and health conditions also play a role.
- Supplements can also raise nitric oxide – Oral nitrate products may provide similar effects.
Clearly more rigorous investigation is required to clarify the relationship between nasal breathing and nitric oxide production.
Tips for Optimizing Nasal Breathing
Unless contraindicated for medical reasons, practicing proper nasal breathing techniques may offer benefits:
- Perform nasal breathing exercises like alternate nostril breathing.
- Use humidifiers and nasal dilators to open nasal airways.
- Treat congestion and obstruction issues like nasal polyps or deviated septum.
- Avoid environmental irritants that could close nasal passages.
- Adopt lifestyle habits like good posture and regular exercise that promote nasal breathing.
- Learn breathwork practices like yoga and pranayama that focus on nasal inhalation.
While advantages for nitric oxide are not fully proven, avoiding chronic mouth breathing still supports respiratory and immune health. With patience and practice, nasal breathing can become habit.
The Bottom Line
Research on nasal breathing and nitric oxide production shows interesting potential. But larger studies are needed to substantiate claims about health benefits. Regard nasal breathing as just one piece of the cardiovascular health puzzle alongside nutrition, exercise and proper medical care. Consult your doctor with any concerns about blood circulation.