The Role of Nitric Oxide for Heart Health

Nitric oxide is a compound that is synthesized in many body tissues, particularly the endothelial cells of the blood vessels, and plays various roles in almost every cell in the body. One of the its important roles known since 1998 is that it regulates the circulatory system and protects against the onset and progression of heart disease. Scientists have also found that it is essential in many body systems including the immune system and the nervous system. Further research found that its reduced bioavailability is linked to many chronic diseases.Fortunately, anyone can consciously increase its production in the body.

How nitric oxide improves heart health

Generally speaking, nitric oxide promotes dilation of blood vessels and prevents plaque, inflammation and clots in the blood vessels.

Nitric oxide’s role in the body was not known for a long time even though small amounts of it are present in the air that we exhale and lots of it is found in exhaust fumes. Here is how it was discovered. It was discovered that people who eat huge amounts of a variety of fruits and vegetables have better heart health. This led to the analysis of fruits and vegetables to determine which compounds within them were responsible for heart health. In the 1980s, scientists found that nitrates in certain fruits and vegetables were converted by the body into nitric oxide, a very important chemical messenger in the body. It works as a biological regulator that helps trillions of cells to communicate with each other.

Nitric oxide only became well known after 1998 after three scientists were awarded a Nobel Prize for discovering its very important role in maintaining the health of blood vessels and regulating blood pressure. They found that it works in the following three ways to maintain heart health and prevent heart disease.

Vasodilation

Scientists found that nitric oxide works by relaxing the inner walls of blood vessels, enabling the blood vessels to dilate so that blood flows smoothly. That way it maintains healthy levels of blood pressure and prevents heart disease. Smooth flow of blood means that the heart muscle also gets sufficient blood and oxygen and remain healthy.

Prevention of atherosclerosis

Scientists also found that NO prevents blood platelets from sticking together and prevents white blood cells from adhering to the walls of blood vessels. That way it prevents the formation of plaque and, by so doing, it keeps blood vessels open, and prevents high blood pressure. Without plaque, there is no risk of blockages that may lead to heart disease and a heart attack.

Prevention of inflammation

Scientists also found that NO has anti-inflammatory properties that keep blood vessels and the heart healthy.

Heart health

The NO that is produced within heart muscles keeps the muscles supple and functional.

Boost effectiveness of heart medication

According to a study published in Science Daily in 2018, taking NO improves heart health directly and helps commonly used heart medications to work better.

Effects of nitric oxide deficiency

As we age,the body degenerates and the cells gradually produce less nitric oxide. Also, the low amounts of NO made by the body are not made available to the body. This is due to a number of factors including poor nutrition, lack of exercise, psychological distress and pollution of the body through smoking. Without sufficient nitric oxide:

  • Blood vessels become less flexible and blood pressure rises.
  • Plaque begins to build up inside the blood vessels, making them too narrow for the blood to flow, again increasing blood pressure.
  • Inflammation develops inside the blood vessels.

A vicious cycle develops in which inflammation, high blood pressure and atherosclerosis impair the production of nitric oxide and interfere with how the little nitric oxide produced in the body is used. This is the beginning of heart disease.

Reduced production and bioavailability of nitric oxide is also linked to congestive heart failure, blood clots in blood vessels, and high cholesterol levels.

One study found that lack of nitric oxide may affect the way heart medication works and may tilt the medications toward more harmful effects. Therefore, with or without treatment of heart disease, deficiency of nitric oxide may lead to a heart attack.

How to improve nitric oxide levels in the body

It is obvious that nitric oxide is essential for heart health and the prevention of heart disease. There are a number of ways of increasing its levels in the body.

Nitrate-rich foods: The most natural way to boost the production of nitric oxide in the body is by eating beets, celery, lettuce, and leafy greens(such as arugula and spinach) which contain nitrates. A recent review of studies confirmed that dietary nitrates have positive effects on blood pressure, platelet function, arterial stiffness and blood flow in the brain.

Polyphenol-rich foods: Eat foods such as garlic, red grapes, fruits and chocolate which contain polyphenols and other compounds that increase nitric oxide production in different ways.

Arginine-rich foods: Eat beans, soy beans, nuts, seeds, dairy, turkey and sea food which naturally contain L-arginine, an amino acid that contributes to the synthesis of nitric oxide. In a 2016 study, increased dietary intake of arginine was strongly connected to higher levels of nitrites and nitrates in the blood, which indicated nitric oxide production.

Regular exercise: It has been found that exercise boosts the production of nitric oxide in the body, whether it is walking, running, cycling, swimming or climbing stairs.

Dietary supplements. In case you are not eating enough of the right proteins, fruits and vegetables, you can take NO-producing supplements. The most commonly taken supplements are L-arginine, L-citrulline and beetroot powder. Studies have proved that supplements can boost the body’s nitric oxide production, blood flow, and the function of blood vessels, and reduce blood pressure.

Bottom line

Knowledge is power. Nitric oxide is essential for heart health and its deficiency leads to heart disease and other chronic conditions. Fortunately, you can improve the production of NO in the body through diet, exercise, and supplements.

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Author

Ron Goedeke MD, BSc Hons MBChB, FNZCAM

Dr Ron Goedeke, specialises in alternative and functional medicine. He is a foundation member of the New Zealand college of Appearance medicine and has been a member of the American Academy of Anti-aging medicine since 1999. With over 20 years of experience in the anti-aging field, Dr Ron Goedeke is recognized as one of New Zealand’s leaders in this new and growing field of medicine.

Disclaimer: The information provided is for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified healthcare provider with any questions or concerns about your health. Never disregard or delay seeking medical advice because of something you have heard or read on this website.

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