Within the medical and scientific community, there has been a great interest in the effects of Nitric Oxide (NO) since the late 1980’s, when it was implicated, as the main intermediate molecule responsible for the relaxation of blood vessels.
Although NO has been implicated in many other physiological processes over the years (such as sexual performance, nervous system regulation, and, most recently, sport performance), its effects on the vascular system, as seen through increases in blood flow and decreases in blood pressure, have been the interest of many research groups and health enthusiasts alike.
However, since the NO molecule itself is only available for an extremely short amount of time (less than 1 second), it becomes clear that to elicit the greatest benefits, the best way to create this molecule in optimal quantities must be found.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
The body naturally produces NO for the purpose of increasing blood flow via blood vessel dilation (widening). This process requires a particular amino acid (L-arginine) and a particular enzyme (Nitric Oxide Synthase- NOS), as well as oxygen and a coenzyme.
This chemical process activates in just about any circumstance in which blood flow needs to be increased to a part of the body. Medical researchers learned that this process is blunted in people with conditions such as Cardiovascular Diseases (CVD).
In certain conditions, such as hypertension (high blood pressure), angina (chest pain), and coronary artery disease (restriction of blood flow to the heart), organic nitrates (nitroglycerin or GTN) are prescribed by a physician. However, the body builds a tolerance to organic nitrates over time and can be harmful in high enough doses.
Supplementation with the amino acids L-arginine or L-citrulline have been two other avenues sought after to attain similar health benefits, such as lowering blood pressure and improving vascular function. There have been promising results for L-citrulline more so than L-arginine, although L-citrulline turns into L-arginine upon entering the body.
These are normally taken in supplement form, but can also be found in dark chocolate, nuts, cucumbers, and different kinds of melons, such as cantaloupe and watermelon. The third way to increase the amount of Nitric Oxide release, which is the one I will be discussing here, is through inorganic nitrate (NO3) consumption.
You see, almost immediately after NO is formed, it has its effect on the body and then is immediately oxidized to Nitrite (NO2) and then, eventually, Nitrate (NO3).
Over the better part of a decade, researchers around the world have been finding that increasing inorganic nitrate (NO3) consumption will lead to the same, if not better, decreases in blood pressure as seen with organic nitrate, L-arginine, or L-cittruline supplementation.
Inorganic nitrate has gotten a bad rap over the years due to its possible link to certain stomach cancers. This has since been proven to be mainly caused by tainted water supplies, leading to extremely high intakes of Nitrate, which, over many years of consumption, could lead to health problems.
It is for this reason that supplementation with Nitrate itself is still questionable, although any supplementation would be many orders of magnitude less than those that would possibly cause harm. Instead, we can look to our own back yards for nitrate intake.
Nitric oxide foods: vegetables such as celery, lettuce, spinach, and red beetroot are very high in nitrate
Consumption of these vegatables directly lowers blood pressure and improves blood vessel function in almost all populations, specifically those who currently have high blood pressure or are at risk of cardiovascular disease (i.e. obese or sedentary people).
The consumption of these whole vegetables has many other advantages due to their micronutrient and phytochemical content as well, including improvement of antioxidant status, weight loss, and decreases in the risk of certain cancers. If eating vegetables is as much of a chore for you as it is for me, supplementation can be obtained in the form of beetroot juice.
This has been marketed mainly for athletes for its possible ergogenic effects, however, the little-pricey beetroot shots contain enough nitrate for the whole day and then some.
Although all of these avenues have been proven sufficient in increasing Nitric Oxide, it is my opinion that avenues in which whole foods are consumed be the primary option.
This stance seems to fall in line with medical nutrition interventions such as the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, which is supported by the American Heart Association, and consists of consuming vegetables, fruits, and legumes which are high in either L-arginine, L-citrulline, and/or Nitrate.
So tonight, have a crisp lettuce and cucumber salad, sprinkled with beets and cashews at dinner to bring down your blood pressure from the long, stressful day.