Laughing gas is nitrous oxide, N2O. Nitric oxide is a very simple gas with just one nitrogen and one oxygen molecule, NO, and is a free radical with a half-life in the body of only seconds. This unassuming little compound is of profound physiological importance in life forms from bacteria to elephants.
Gynostemma pentaphyllum (Jiaogulan) is a potent NO inducer
In 1998, the Nobel Peace Prize in Medicine/Physiology was awarded to Louis Ignarro and Ferid Murad for their discovery of the role of nitric oxide as a signaling molecule in the cardiovascular system. Since its discovery there have been almost 170,000 scientific publications on nitric oxide and in a mere 20 years it has its own journals: Nitric Oxide – the journal of the Nitric Oxide Society; the Open Nitric Oxide Journal; and Nitric Oxide Biology and Chemistry. Nitric oxide is a super star. In 1992 it was named “Molecule of the Year”.
With good reason too. Unlike other discoveries that hold the spotlight for just a short time, there have been over 3000 professional publications referencing NO just in 2019 to date. The effects of nitric oxide are felt throughout the body systems. There are two inducible enzyme systems producing nitric oxide on as as-needed basis only – iNOS and nNOS – serving the immune and nervous systems, as well as an eNOS enzyme, endogenous nitric oxide synthase, which works 24/7 to maintain key function such as keeping blood vessels open, dilating airways and triggering cellular healing, growth of new blood vessels and other responses of tissues to stress and exercise.
The well known human cardiac medication, nitroglycerin, works by releasing nitric oxide. This relaxes spasms of blood vessels in the heart which cause chest pain/angina. Nitric oxide has also been found to be a key regulator of tendon and ligament healing. In human studies, nitroglycerin assists in the management of degenerative tendon and ligament problems where healing is stalled.
Inhaled nitric oxide is used to assist people with pulmonary hypertension or babies with premature lung issues. Inhaled nitric oxide also improves oxygenation in horses undergoing surgery and general anesthesia.
Nitric oxide is of particular importance in hoof health. Imbalances between endogenous nitric oxide from eNOS causing dilation and effects of the potent vasoconstrictor endothelin-1 can restrict blood flow to the foot. Carbohydrate sensitive horses can have such imbalances. Restoring homeostasis between the two allows for optimal health and growth.
As mentioned, nitroglycerin is one way of increasing nitric oxide but overdoing it causes drops in blood pressure and humans report severe headaches. The amino acid L-arginine and its byproduct L-citrulline are needed for nitric oxide production but play no significant role in actually promoting it. Several herbs and natural substances are known to support NO production, including Hawthorn which is a popular human cardiac supplement, but the most effective is Gynostemma pentaphyllum, aka Jiaogulan.
Jiaogulan is a vine indigenous to a remote area of China where it often is used as a tea or vegetable. The leaves are used for endogenous nitric oxide support. At the same time it supports regulation of inflammatory nitrous oxide production. It has a mild, pleasant odor and horses seem to enjoy the taste. For best effects, give between 2000 and 5000 mg twice a day, mixed into a paste and fed 20 minutes before a meal. It can also be added to the food but higher dosages are usually needed.
Eleanor Kellon, VMD