If you are like me, your first thought was, “Hold up! Isn’t nitric oxide bad for you?” I’m no rocket scientist or chemist, but I do seem to recall hearing things like “nitric oxide is a pollutant,” “it’s in acid rain,” “it’s a food preservative.” As a wellness nurse, I’m pretty sure I remember something about nitrates and nitrite helping to form a chemical that can cause cancer, wasn’t it the same chemical that gave the Marlboro Man lung cancer? Now I’m being told that nitric oxide is good for me, really?
Imagine that you could prevent high blood pressure (hypertension), keep arteries flexible and young while lowering cholesterol. Thus preventing, slowing, or reversing the buildup of artery-clogging plaque and blood clots, also reducing the risk of diabetes and its devastating complications such as chronic kidney disease, blindness, and hard to heal wounds, all often associated with diabetes. Nathan Bryan, PhD, author of The Nitric Oxide (NO) Solution, states that nitric oxide “is a miracle molecule” dramatically improving a person’s physical and mental health. Some other health improvements are the reduction of swelling and pain from arthritis, reversing erectile dysfunction, calming asthmatic spasms, limiting the damage the sun can do to skin, aiding the immune system by killing bad bacteria, reducing the risk of osteoporosis, and boosting pain relievers and mood lifting antidepressants. According to Louis Ignarro, PhD, a Noble Laureate, “There may be no disease process where this miracle molecule does not have a protective role.”
Nitric Oxide (NO) should not be confused for nitrous oxide (N2O) a general anesthetic, most commonly referred to as laughing gas. Nor is it nitrogen dioxide (NO2) known as air pollutant. This pollutant is caused by oxygen and nitric oxide. NO is an important messenger molecule involved in many physiological and pathological processes. It plays both a destructive and protective roles in autoimmunity depending on which isomer is expressed.
Research on nitric oxide first began in the 1970’s. In 1992 the Journal of Science called it “The Molecule of the Year”. Then in 1998, three pharmacologists were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their studies of nitric oxide, they had “discovered “the atom” of cardiovascular health”. Their discovery was that nitric oxide is a major signaling molecule in the cardiovascular system. Nitric oxide easily penetrates cells and membranes because it’s a gas, not a solid or liquid. The chemical formula NO; one molecule of nitrogen is bound to one molecule of oxygen. NO penetrates membranes and cells very quickly, much like how your eyes read information (like this website), then sending the information to the brain where it begins the processing of the information so it can be understood. This happens as quickly as an eye blinks. The same for the absorption of NO, it sends critical signals to tissue, organs and the bodies systems, the message is simple:
- Directing arteries to relax and expand
- Directing the brain neurons to communicate with each other
- Directing the immune system to kill bacteria and cancer cells
As a body ages, it becomes less effective in the production of nitric oxide. By the time a person is in their 40’s, studies show the body only makes about half or less nitric oxide than it made in its 20’s. By ages 40, Men’s NO declines by 50%. While a woman of 50 declines to about 35% of her youthful levels. Keeping NO levels elevated takes a conscious effort of exercise and foods rich in nitrate can help. Levels of nitrates are good in fruit & vegetables; however root type vegetables have the highest nitrates. Vegetables that are highest in nitrates are lettuce, beets, carrots, spinach, cabbage, radishes. For NO to be in the body it is reliant on a person’s diet of foods with high nitrate and nitrites, although nitrates are more common. Nitrates turn into nitrites which turn on NO.
Wondering what causes nitric oxide levels to decline? Interestingly enough mouthwash is a major culprit to the crime. The body creates NO from nitrate enriched food. The conversion from nitrate to nitric oxide starts with the mouth, or more precise the saliva. The friendly bacteria’s then creates NO. Like most I like my mouth to feel and smell clean, so mouthwash is pretty regular in my house. Sadly as Johnson & Johnson Listerine™ mouthwash proclaims “Listerine © Antiseptic kills plaque and gingivitis germs”. Mouthwash destroys the odor causing bacteria along with all the friendly. Thus resulting in the body only getting a portion of the NO it needs to keep all the systems healthy.
To help avoid confusion, let’s just say nitric oxide synthase (NOS) is a group of enzyme catalysis that helps the production of nitric oxide (NO) from L-arginine and operates in different areas of the body.
Nitrates and Nitrites
Nitrates & nitrites have been used for thousands of years, back before “ice boxes” where a thought (now I grew up in a time where I had heard of an ice box, even seen a picture, but never actually saw one. So for those of you who might be scratching your heads? Yes, it’s as it sounds a wooden box lined in metal where a large block of ice is placed in it to keep foods cool). Nitrate where used in the preserving of meat, known as “Curing”. It’s the use of nitrates, sodium nitrate a chemical compound of NaNO3. This is salt, more specifically known as Chile saltpeter or Peru saltpeter, but not to be confused with regular saltpeter (potassium nitrate, compounded of KNO3). Sodium Nitrate has been used in pyrotechnics, glass, fertilizer, enamel, food preservation and rocket propellant. Like any compound the quantity and how it is used in a formula will drive the purpose of its use. In curing meat a small amount of nitrate added to meat will help break down the nitrates to nitrite.
L-argining is a vital precursor to the production of NO in the body. A semi-essential amino acid and used as a building block for protein. L-argining is found in red meat, fish, dairy and poultry. L-argining plays a complex part in the formation of NO. The body does not make a lot of this so the best way to supplement the body’s intake is through food proteins or supplementation.
Benefits of Nitric Oxide
After thousands of scientific papers and years of research we can now begin to see the benefits of NO. These benefits are still a fairly new discovery. The research continues on precisely how NO works. Here are some of the documented benefits discussed in The Nitric Oxide (NO) Solution.
Protecting bones from osteoporosis; Two out of 50 women have broken bones due to osteoporosis; from weakening or eroding of the bones. Nitric oxide is a regulator in bone remodeling. Studies in the medical journal Bones have shown that NO can stop the eroding bone from cells called osteoclasts, while helping to stimulate bone-building cells called osteoblast.
Memory Loss; Iranian researchers have done a large amount of studies to suggest that NO plays a role in learning and memory. NO has also shown to improve short term, intermediate and long term memories.
Arthritis; Research has shown that NO reduce arthritic pain. NO has shown improvement in pain relief without the negative side effects. This is done through improvement of circulation, reduction of inflammation and decreasing irritation of the nerves.
Asthma; Over 20 million adult & children have asthma. NO cause’s dilation in vessel, resulting in the bronchi relaxing, opening, and breathing can resume as normal. NO can also help with reactive/hyper-responsive airway.
Cancer; cancer tumors are difficult to treat due to hypoxia (the lack of oxygen to the tumor) and the levels of blood flow to the tumor. NO aids with vasodilation improving the blood flow and effectiveness of cancer therapy. NO sensitizes cancer cells to radiation while limiting the DNA damage from radiation and boosts the immune system.
Sickle Cell Anemia; Sickle Cell Anemia is an inherited and incurable disease. Basically it takes a normal “round shaped oxygen carrying red blood cell” and incases it in a “sickle” shape cell. This sickle cell travels along in the blood stream getting caught and blocking the flow of blood and oxygen, resulting in the disease’s main symptoms of pain and damage to organs. Research from the National Institute of Health (NIH) has shown that “bio inactivation of NO” is what is causing the constriction of blood flow, blood clotting and end-organ damage. This being said it stands to reason that to increase NO bioavailability is vital to treatment.
Diabetes; diabetes has become an epidemic in America. The effects of diabetes can increase risk of heart disease and stroke, and is a leading cause of kidney disease; it can cause blindness, reducing circulation to the limbs and increases risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Insulin signaling and secretion are improved with NO. NO synthesis is important for glucose uptake, without NO, insulin resistance can result.
Sexual Functions and Erectile Dysfunction; Erectile dysfunction is usually a circulatory problem, due to lack of blood to the penis. Adequate levels of NO are needed to cause dilation of the arteries in the penis. NO helps to bind the receptors enzyme called guanylyl cyclase and boosting cGMP (cyclic guanosine monophosphate) which widens arties in the penis. The same is true for woman. If the blood flow is not sufficient to the clitoris, then sexual sensitivity and organs may not be insufficient or not happen at all.
I’ve touched on some of the things that nitric oxide can help with, but the list goes on to include glaucoma, chronic kidney disease, stomach ulcers, bladder problems, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), skin diseases, improving circulation, lowering blood pressure, delaying the onset of atherosclerosis, cardio vascular disease, and stress. As you can see the benefits of nitric oxide has the ability to restore and protect a person health in many different ways. Nitric oxide is truly “The molecule of the year”, a real miracle.
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