Nitric Oxide Benefits and Side Effects

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in current health articles, Food and Health, Nutritiion, Supplements and Health

Reverse Heart Disease?reverse-heart-disease

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

Nitric oxide has had a meteoric rise from obscurity to fame in just a few short years. It’s an amazing story. After all, nitric oxide is a colorless, odorless gas. Who could have known it was destined for greatness? In this article, we will discuss nitric oxide benefits and side effects.

Its rise to fame started in the 1980’s when scientists from several universities discovered that nitric oxide was an important regulator of numerous physiological processes. Just a few years later in 1992 Science magazine named it “Molecule of the Year”, a very prestigious honor. And, in 1998 three of its co-discoverers received the Nobel Prize for their ground-breaking research.

The Benefits of Nitric Oxide

Proven Benefits

Perhaps the most important benefit of nitric oxide is its role in maintaining the health of the endothelial cells that form the inner lining of our blood vessels. Nitric oxide reduces:

  • Platelet aggregation
  • Damage & inflammation of the endothelial cells
  • Oxidation of LDL cholesterol
  • Growth of smooth muscle cells.

This is important because these are the very physiological processes that, if left unchecked, can lead to atherosclerosis and disease of the cardiovascular system (Davignon and Ganz, Circulation, 109: 1127-1132, 2004; Tousoulis et al, Current Vascular Pharmacology, 10: 4-18, 2012).

cardiovascular-system

However, the effect of nitric oxide that has gotten the most attention is its ability to relax the smooth muscle cells that surround our blood vessels. That leads to increased blood flow, which in turn decreases blood pressure, relieves angina, and even prevents erectile dysfunction (Davignon and Ganz, Circulation, 109: 1127-1132, 2004; Tousoulis et al, Current Vascular Pharmacology, 10: 4-18, 2012).

Possible Benefits

Many people with atherosclerosis, diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure) have low nitric oxide levels. It’s not known whether this is a cause or a result of these diseases, but low nitric oxide levels certainly could contribute to the progression and health consequences of all three diseases. We already know that increasing nitric oxide levels can reduce high blood pressure. It is not yet known whether increasing nitric oxide levels could reduce or reverse heart disease and the effects of diabetes, but this is an area of active research.

Nitric oxide is a neurotransmitter and is thought to play a critical role in memory and learning. It also plays a critical role in immune function. In addition, it enhances the metabolic activity of mitochondria, which could enhance cellular metabolism. The physiological significance of these observations is unknown, but this is another area of active research

Finally, because nitric oxide stimulates blood flow, which should increase oxygen and nutrient delivery to active muscle, it has been suggested that nitric oxide supplements would improve sports performance. The results of clinical studies to test this hypothesis have been mixed. The latest research suggests that nitric oxide supplements may enhance performance in untrained or moderately trained subjects, but not in highly trained subjects (Bescoe et al, Sports Medicine, 42: 99-117, 2012). At last, a sports supplement for the common man!

Drugs That Affect Nitric Oxide Levels

Because nitric oxide has such powerful physiological effects, the pharmaceutical industry has been busy creating drugs that either increase nitric oxide levels or increase the biological effectiveness of nitric oxide. For example, these include drugs to treat angina, hypertension, pulmonary hypertension and erectile dysfunction.

These drugs are generally effective, but have some drawbacks, namely:

  • They have numerous side effects. For example, just listen to the Viagra or Cialis ads on TV.
  • Some of them lose their biological effectiveness over time, especially the angina medications.

Natural Approaches for Increasing Nitric Oxide Levels

nitratesThere are two natural pathways for generating nitric oxide in the body.

1)     The first pathway is an enzymatic process that oxidizes a nitrogen atom in the amino acid arginine to nitric oxide.

2)     The second pathway is a non-enzymatic process in which naturally occurring nitrates and nitrites are reduced to nitric oxide either by bacteria in the mouth and intestine, or by naturally occurring antioxidants.

Arginine is found in proteins. The best protein sources of arginine are red meat, soy, crustaceans (crab, shrimp & lobster), nuts, spinach and lentils. In addition, you can find arginine supplements and arginine-enriched protein supplements.

The best natural sources of nitrates and nitrites are vegetables, especially spinach, beet root and arugula followed by green leafy vegetable and root vegetables in general. Vegetables provide about 80% of the nitrates and nitrites in the American diet.

Nitrates and nitrites do not appear to have the side effects of the nitic oxide producing drugs. This is probably because their effects on raising nitric oxide levels are slower and more modest, and they do not accumulate in the body.

Interestingly, conventionally grown vegetables are higher in nitrates than organically grown vegetables because of the use of inorganic, nitrate-containing fertilizers. However, that doesn’t mean that I recommend conventionally grown produce over organic produce. In last week’s “Health Tips From the Professor”, I reported that conventionally grown produce is 4-fold higher in pesticides.

Red meat and processed meats are also a minor source of nitrates and nitrites in the American diet because nitrates and nitrites are used as preservatives and coloring agents in those meats.

Are Nitrates and Nitrites Beneficial?

Until recently most of the focus has been on arginine as a natural source of nitric oxide. However, there are several lines of evidence suggesting that dietary sources of nitrates and nitrates can also provide the health benefits expected from nitric oxide.

For example, it has long been known that the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet is as effective as medications for lowering moderately elevated blood pressure. The DASH diet recommends 4-5 servings of vegetables per day, and recent studies have suggested that the nitrates found in those vegetables may play an important role in the blood pressure lowering effect of the DASH diet (Hord et al, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 90: 1-10, 2009; Lin et al, Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, p 472396, 2012).

In addition, a recent meta-analysis of 16 clinical trials concluded that inorganic nitrate and beet root juice supplements lower blood pressure by modest amounts in healthy individuals (Siervo et al, Journal of Nutrition, 143: 818-826, 2013).

Are Nitrates and Nitrites Harmful?

There are two potential concerns around increasing dietary nitrate and nitrite intake.

1)     The one you may have heard the most about is the concern that dietary nitrates and nitrites might increase cancer risk. That turns out to be mainly associated with the nitrates and nitrites added to meats because, in the intestine, nitrites can combine with amino acids to form cancer causing nitrosamines.

That does not appear to be a problem with vegetables because vitamin C and other naturally occurring antioxidants in the vegetables prevent nitrosamine formation. There is no cancer risk in consuming more vegetables.

arginine

2)     The other concern is potential drug-nutrient interactions, especially drugs which also increase nitric oxide levels such as drugs for angina, hypertension, pulmonary hypertension and erectile dysfunction. This is because the combination of nitric oxide from nitrates in the diet and from the drugs has the potential to cause dangerously low blood pressure.

As a general precaution, if you are taking any medications I suggest consulting your doctor or pharmacist before increasing your dietary intake of nitrates and nitrites.

 

The Bottom Line

1)     Nitric oxide plays an important role in keeping the endothelial lining of your blood vessels healthy, which is thought to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis.

2)    Nitric oxide also relaxes the smooth muscle cells that surround our blood vessels. That increases blood flow and decreases blood pressure. The increased blood flow also decreases angina and erectile dysfunction.

3)    Nitric oxide also may increase blood flow to active muscle cells. This has been reported to increase exercise efficiency and sports performance. This effect of nitric oxide appears to primarily affect untrained and moderately trained athletes, not highly trained athletes.

4)    It has been suggested that nitric oxide may be useful for memory and learning, immune function, mitochondrial function and may reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Research is currently going on to evaluate these hypotheses.

5)     There are two natural sources of nitric oxide:

  • The amino acid arginine from proteins and supplements
  • Nitrates and nitrites from vegetables such as spinach, beet root and arugula and from supplements.

6)     Foods (primarily vegetables) and supplements providing dietary nitrates have been shown to modestly lower blood pressure in healthy individuals. They are likely to provide the other benefits associated with nitric oxide as well, without the side effects associated with nitric oxide enhancing medications.

7)     Nitrates and nitrites from vegetables are unlikely to increase cancer risk because vitamin C and other antioxidants from the vegetables prevent the conversion of nitrates and nitrites to nitrosamines.

8)     If you are taking any medications, especially medications for angina, high blood pressure or erectile dysfunction, consult with your doctor or pharmacist before increasing your dietary nitrate intake.

9)     High blood pressure is a silent killer. You should never substitute dietary nitrates for blood pressure medication. Always consult with your physician first. They may be willing to work with you to lower the amount of medication if appropriate. Finally, even if you don’t have high blood pressure, you should monitor your blood pressure on a regular basis. High blood pressure can sneak up on you without you realizing it.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Tags: , , ,

Trackback from your site.

Comments (2)

  • Josephine Dye

    |

    thanks for all you are teaching us about our health

    Reply

  • Club Pump

    |

    Appreciation to my father who shared with me about this weblog,
    this blog is in fact remarkable.

    Reply

Leave a comment

Recent Videos From Dr. Steve Chaney

READ THE ARTICLE
READ THE ARTICLE

Latest Article

One of the Little known Causes of Headaches

Posted August 15, 2017 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Your Sleeping Position May Be Causing Your Headaches!

Author: Julie Donnelly, LMT – The Pain Relief Expert

Editor: Dr. Steve Chaney

 

Can sleeping position be one of the causes of headaches?  

A Sleeping position that has your head tilted puts pressure on your spinal cord and will cause headaches. I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times, and the reasoning is so logical it’s easy to understand.

causes of headachesYour spinal cord runs from your brain, through each of your vertebrae, down your arms and legs. Nerves pass out of the vertebrae and go to every cell in your body, including each of your organs. When you are sleeping it is important to keep your head, neck, and spine in a horizontal plane so you aren’t straining the muscles that insert into your vertebrae.

The graphic above is a close-up of your skull and the cervical (neck) vertebrae. Your nerves are shown in yellow, and your artery is shown in red.  Consider what happens if you hold your head to one side for hours. You can notice that the nerves and artery will likely be press upon. Also, since your spinal cord comes down the inside of the vertebrae, it will also be impinged.

In 2004 the Archives of Internal Medicine published an article stating that 1 out of 13 people have morning headaches. It’s interesting to note that the article never mentions the spinal cord being impinged by the vertebrae. That’s a major oversight!

Muscles merge into tendons, and the tendons insert into the bone.  As you stayed in the tilted position for hours, the muscles actually shortened to the new length.  Then you try to turn over, but the short muscles are holding your cervical vertebrae tightly, and they can’t lengthen.

The weight of your head pulls on the vertebrae, putting even more pressure on your spinal cord and nerves.  Plus, the tight muscles are pulling on the bones, causing pain on the bone.

Your Pillow is Involved in Your Sleeping Position and the Causes of  Headaches

sleep left side

The analogy I always use is; just as pulling your hair hurts your scalp, the muscle pulling on the tendons hurts the bone where it inserts.  In this case it is your neck muscles putting a strain on your cervical bones.  For example, if you sleep on your left side and your pillow is too thick, your head will be tilted up toward the ceiling. This position tightens the muscles on the right side of your neck.

sleeping in car and desk

Dozing off while sitting in a car waiting for someone to arrive, or while working for hours at your desk can also horizontal line sleepcause headaches. The pictures above show a strain on the neck when you fall asleep without any support on your neck. Both of these people will wake up with a headache, and with stiffness in their neck.

The best sleeping position to prevent headaches is to have your pillow adjusted so your head, neck, and spine are in a horizontal line. Play with your pillows, putting two thin pillows into one case if necessary. If your pillow is too thick try to open up a corner and pull out some of the stuffing.

 

sleeping on stomachSleeping on Your Back & Stomach

If you sleep on your back and have your head on the mattress, your spine is straight. All you need is a little neck pillow for support, and a pillow under your knees.

Stomach sleeping is the worst sleeping position for not only headaches, but so many other aches and pains. It’s a tough habit to break, but it can be done. This sleeping position deserves its own blog, which I will do in the future.

 

Treating the Muscles That Cause Headaches

sleeping position causes of headachesAll of the muscles that originate or insert into your cervical vertebrae, and many that insert into your shoulder and upper back, need to be treated.  The treatments are all taught in Treat Yourself to Pain Free Living, in the neck and shoulder chapters.  Here is one treatment that will help you get relief.

Take either a tennis ball or the Perfect Ball (which really is Perfect because it has a solid center and soft outside) and press into your shoulder as shown.  You are treating a muscle called Levator Scapulae which pulls your cervical vertebrae out of alignment when it is tight.

Hold the press for about 30 seconds, release, and then press again.

Your pillow is a key to neck pain and headaches caused by your sleeping position.  It’s worth the time and energy to investigate how you sleep and correct your pillow.  I believe this blog will help you find the solution and will insure you have restful sleep each night.

Wishing you well,

Julie Donnelly

 

About The Author

julie donnelly

Julie Donnelly is a Deep Muscle Massage Therapist with 20 years of experience specializing in the treatment of chronic joint pain and sports injuries. She has worked extensively with elite athletes and patients who have been unsuccessful at finding relief through the more conventional therapies.

She has been widely published, both on – and off – line, in magazines, newsletters, and newspapers around the country. She is also often chosen to speak at national conventions, medical schools, and health facilities nationwide.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

UA-43257393-1