Some of the added benefits of nostril breathing and Nitric Oxide (NO)

Some of the added benefits of nostril breathing and Nitric Oxide (NO)

In 1998 the molecule nitric oxide was thrust to the top of the scientific limelight when three pharmacologists Louis J Ingarro, Ferid Murad and Robert F Furchgott1 were awarded the Nobel Prize in the category of Physiology and Medicine. They discovered that nitric oxide is a signaling molecule, which regulates the cardiovascular system. Prior to 1998 it was established by these researchers that nitroglycerin and other drugs release nitric oxide which relaxes vascular smooth muscle cells. It was known in those days as (EDRD) Endothelium Derived Relaxing Factor.

Today there are contradictory beliefs of the role of nitric oxide (NO) but like many scientific discoveries time will tell whose hypotheses are correct and whose are incorrect.

NO is acknowledged as having properties that are creating a revolution in the field of Neuroscience in respect of neurotransmission. Neuroscientists2 believe that nitric oxide is a messenger (retrograde) that is synthesized or manufactured as needed from inside postsynaptic neurons and which easily travel back across the synapse and back into neighboring presynaptic neurons. Glutamate then stimulates the release of calcium, which cascades out of the presynaptic terminals and back into the postsynaptic neurons stimulating guanylate cyclase and nitric oxide synthase.

This cycle of events perpetuates a long-term release of nitric oxide, which is believed to be involved in long term memory3. NO plays a part in (LTP) long term perpetuation or neural transmission of communication of information between neurons in the hippocampus, which is involved in long term memory.

Nitric oxide has been found to relax constricted blood vessels (vasodilation) and is now used to treat many illnesses. One of these illnesses is high altitude sickness, which produces symptoms known as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). This condition severely limits normal activity at high altitude above 2500 meters and can even progress to fatal consequences. Currently in many countries nitric oxide is being used to treat the aggressive and potentially deadly condition. Once administered nitric oxide vasodilates the thin wall blood capillaries that carry de oxygenated blood to the lungs, which during AMS become constricted restricting the flow of blood. In the Indian army4 nitric oxide administration has been standardized in the treatment of High Altitude Pulmonary Odema (HAPO) in all of its military hospitals. It is a huge problem in India because its northern borders are the huge Himalayas.

Nitric oxide has biological effects that vary from being beneficial to harmful. In the respiratory tract increased levels of nitric oxide are important bronchodilators and vasodilators and also play a role in viral and bacterial killing.

In the respiratory system nitric oxide is believed to be synthesized and released via epithelial cells which line the respiratory tract and lungs. Nitric oxide has been found to be in high levels in inflammatory conditions such as asthma. Exhaled breath is measured for nitric oxide presence or concentration and in asthma the nitric oxide levels are much higher than in non sufferers. This indicator or marker which is easily measured by scientists and being non-invasive creates a way to monitor the pathogenesis and early diagnosis of inflammatory diseases such as asthma. It is also a way of monitoring treatment for asthma, allergic rhinitis and sinusitis. By using nitric oxide measurements as indicators for these corticosteroid dependent patients therapists can administer nitric oxide and successfully reduce the levels of corticosteroids.

It is interesting to note that abundant nitric oxide levels exist in the nasal cavity, specifically the sinuses that are in contact with the nostrils. Some interesting research was recently conducted at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm5.The article appeared in the periodical magazine for the Scandinavian Yoga and Meditation Centre named Bindu.

The school headed by Swami Janakananda is dedicated to traditional Yoga and Yoga research. For more information on this great school check out my links page. They established that nitric oxide flows with the air into the lungs, that is, when breathing through the nose. As nitric oxide is a blood vessel dilator, the blood vessels, which come into contact with the alveoli, are expanded. This means that a greater amount of blood that passes through the alveoli can be oxidized. When they compared nose breathing to mount breathing there was a 10-15% increase in oxidation of the blood.

There are implications here for asthma sufferers with nostril breathing as a treatment to reduce vasoconstriction of the bronchioles, which makes it hard for sufferers to breathe. The inhaled air through the nostrils draws with it the airborne mediator, nitric oxide from the nasal sinuses into the lungs. This causes vasodilation (relaxation) and increased oxygenation of the blood. This could lead sufferers to decrease the use of corticosteroid sprays or treatments. It appears that inflammation of the airways that in asthma produces excessive amounts of nitric oxide, which is then exhaled but in chronic asthma sufferers, nitric oxide plays an unknown role.

Nitric oxide production in the body is normally short lived, it is metabolized, synthesized and plays an important role in inflammatory and immune response. In high levels nitric oxide is known to be toxic. Asthma drug therapy has changed in recent years from beta agonists (inhaled bronchodilators) which cause relief in minutes too inhaled steroids that act more slowly but reduce the inflammatory response and frequence of episodes). This inflammatory response is an immune response and the cycle of increased nitric oxide and decreased nitric oxide synthesis gets very complicated. Like many other complex biological reactions nitric oxide is a paradox. If nitric oxide levels are too low pathology can manifest and if nitric oxide levels are too high pathology can also manifest. Like homeostasis once threshold limits are breached at either limit problems start appearing.

With my analysis of nitric oxide and asthma drugs such as beta agonists (inhaled bronchodilators) and inhaled steroids I believe that they use nitric oxide metabolism as a point of action.

These drugs on a molecular and physiological level work as agonists thus mimicking the signal compound metabolite glutamate which transports into the cells increased calcium levels , which in turn activate nitric oxide synthase to release nitric oxide.

Copyright © Swami Mounamurti Saraswati 2000

The author grants the right to use this file only in its entirety and authorship must be acknowledged


1 Academic Press Website 1998 Nobel Prize for Academic Press Authors

2 Neurosciences Newsletter Website 1997 NO Signalling Pathway

3 Neurosciences Newsletter Website 1998 Nitric Oxide and Cellular Learning

4 Indian Express Website 1999 NO based cure for high altitude sickness

5. Weitzberg Eddie,MD.Ph.D 2000 NO- Breathe through the nose

Karolinska Institute



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