Episode #31 The Role of Nitric Oxide in the Body with Dr. Louis Ignarro

Body of Wonder Podcast

Your body naturally produces nitric oxide, a small gaseous molecule; while it exists for mere seconds, it is vitally important for your health. The main function of nitric oxide is vasodilation. Nitric oxide also improves brain cognition, stabilizes blood pressure, and supports exercise performance.

Today we welcome, Dr. Louis Ignarro, who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discovery that nitric oxide acts as a signaling molecule in the cardiovascular system. His research led him to the development of one of the most popular pharmaceuticals in the world, sildenafil, known widely by its brand name, Viagra. Yet, Dr. Ignarro has devoted his life to unlocking nitric oxide’s larger potential in advancing heart health.

In this episode Dr. Ignarro shares the history of the scientific discovery of nitric oxide and its use in medical settings around the world. Dr. Weil asks what’s responsible for the rise in nitric oxide deficiencies. Dr. Maizes asks about natural mechanisms to increases nitric oxide levels, such as breathwork.

Join us on a journey through the science of nitric oxide, the small molecule with a large impact.

Please note, the show will not advise, diagnose, or treat medical conditions. Always seek the advice of your physician or healthcare provider for questions regarding your health.

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Andrew Weil, MD and Victoria Maizes, MD


Louis Ignarro , PhD

Louis J. Ignarro is currently a Professor Emeritus of Pharmacology at the UCLA School of Medicine. In 1998, Louis was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discoveries of the signaling properties of nitric oxide in mammalian systems.

Louis grew up in Long Beach, NY, where, as a child, he became fascinated with both chemistry (making bombs and rocket fuel) and biology (dissecting dead animals). Then, distraction set in as he turned my attention to building and racing cars in the National Hot Rod Association. Finally, he settled down at Columbia University in NYC to major in chemistry and pharmacy, and then went on to the University of Minnesota for  PhD training in pharmacology. After two years at the N.I.H. in the Laboratory of Chemical Pharmacology, he accepted a research position at Ciba-Geigy in NY. After five years, he moved to the academic environment as faculty at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans. In 1985, Louis moved to UCLA as Professor. His basic research focused on cardiovascular physiology and pharmacology, with an emphasis on the chemical nature of physiological molecules that regulate vascular function. His intense motivation paid off with the discovery that our bodies produce nitric oxide (NO), which is a potent vasodilator and inhibitor of platelet aggregation. NO regulates blood flow, lowers the blood pressure, prevents atherosclerosis and delays onset of the metabolic syndrome. As a side project, it was discovered that NO is also the principal neurotransmitter that causes penile erection. This led to the development of Viagra and, as a result, he has been nicknamed “The Father of Viagra”.

He has published nearly 1,000 articles and numerous books. In 1998, he received the Basic Research Prize of the American Heart Association in recognition of my contributions to the advancement of cardiovascular science. Shortly thereafter, Louis was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the International Academy of Achievement. Louis is the founder of the Nitric Oxide Society and editor-in-chief of Nitric Oxide Biology and Chemistry. He currently serves on the advisory boards of Operation USA and Herbalife. In 1998, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. That was a very exciting and emotional moment in his life as he had worked day and night in the laboratory for nearly 40 years without much instant gratification. Louis was fortunate to be in the U.S. and at excellent institutions like UCLA where it was possible to raise ample research funds. Although his mom and dad were uneducated immigrants from Italy, they guided him in the right direction. “Only in America can the son of a carpenter win the Nobel Prize”.

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