Nitric oxide receives a lot of attention due to its cardiovascular benefits. Few people realize it, but nitric oxide (NO) is the most important chemical compound for heart health. Adequate NO production is the first step in a chain reaction that promotes healthy cardiovascular function, while insufficient NO triggers destruction that eventually results in heart disease.
What is nitric oxide (NO)?
Nitric oxide is a molecule that our body produces to help its 50 trillion cells communicate with each other by transmitting signals throughout the entire body. NO promotes healthy dilation of the veins and arteries so blood can move throughout the body. It also prevents red blood cells from sticking together to create dangerous clots and blockages.
The body naturally generates nitric oxide in the endothelium that line the blood vessel walls.
NO controls the overall blood flow. No matter how much oxygen your red blood cells load up, delivery depends on this third gas. Nitric oxide determines when and how the oxygen carried by the red blood cells gets into your tissues.
Without NO carried along with the oxygen, the hemoglobin wouldn’t be able to do its critical job of carrying oxygen from the lungs to the tissues and returning carbon dioxide from the tissues back to the lungs.
60,000 studies on NO prove it to be effective. In fact, Dr. Robert Furchgott, Dr. Louis J. Ignarro, and Dr. Ferid Murad earned the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1998 for discovering the signaling role of nitric oxide.
Up until then, many thought that the respiratory system used only two gases, oxygen and carbon dioxide, where the red blood cells gathered and transported inhaled oxygen to your cells while picking up waste carbon dioxide to be exhaled.
Nitric Oxide Benefits
- Improves oxygen delivery to every cell
- Expands blood vessels and improves overall circulation
- Lowers risk of plaque accumulation on arterial walls
- Aids in preventing blood clots
- Helps to regulate blood pressure
- Enhances athletic performance and excercise
- Critical to neurotransmissions in the brain
- Helps prevent cognitive decline
- Improves erectile dysfunction
Nitric Oxide and the Heart
Doctors use nitroglycerin as a potent vasodilator to treat heart conditions, such as angina pectoris and chronic heart failure. Before researchers discovered the important role of nitric oxide in 1998, doctors didn’t know the exact connection between nitric oxide and nitroglycerin.
In 2002, a research team at Duke University Medical Center (DUMC), published their results studying nitroglycerin. They found an enzyme that breaks down nitroglycerin and releases a nitric oxide-related molecule. Shortly after heart patients take nitroglycerin, the blood vessels supplying the heart muscle relax. This allows oxygen-rich blood to nourish the heart and relieve pain. While many know that NO, a breakdown product of nitroglycerin, plays a critical role regulating blood vessel relaxation, scientists still did not how nitroglycerin generates nitric oxide.
While researchers in the past searched for such an enzyme in different tissues, the Duke team found an answer. They found that the biochemical reaction that breaks down nitroglycerin takes place in mitochondria. The mitrochondria is a compartment within cells commonly known as the cell’s “powerhouse.”
The enzyme is called mitochondrial aldehyde dehydrogenase (mALDH), and only in mitochondria can the nitric-oxide-related product of the enzyme get further processed to blood vessel-relaxing nitric oxide.
The endothelium of your arteries produces nitric oxide. When plaque builds up in your arteries, called atherosclerosis, you reduce your capacity to produce nitric oxide. In the early stages of arterial disease, the damaged endotelium blocks the production of NO. This makes the vessels vulnerable to inflammation and other negative factors.
Stamler said, “Blood flow to tissues is actually more important in most circumstances than how much oxygen is carried by hemoglobin,” he explains. “Within the tissues, the tiny vessels and the red blood cells together make up the critical entity controlling blood flow. Red blood cell dysfunction is likely a hidden contributor to diseases of the heart, lung and blood such as heart attack, heart failure, stroke and ischemic injury to kidneys.”
How to Boost NO
You can boost your levels of beneficial nitric oxide through your diet and lifestyle choices. Following a pro-antioxidant eating plan and limiting pro-inflammatory behaviors, like excessive alcohol consumption and smoking, benefits your body’s ability to make NO.
- There are also supplements you can take. The most effective ones contain L-citrulline combined with L-arginine to boost nitric oxide.
The incredible benefits of nitric oxide could hold the key to a healthy heart.
For more information about Stamlers study go to: https://eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2002-06/dumc-1ms052902.php