How Nitric Oxide Can Work For You
Within our arteries lies the endothelium, the innermost lining (the part in contact with the blood). Ideally, the endothelium should be smooth for the blood to pass through easily, and supple to allow contraction and relaxation as the heart beats. When it isn’t, the endothelium is where damage can occur, leading to plaque buildup and eventually to heart attack or stroke.
Luckily, the endothelium has a built-in protective feature: the ability for its cells to manufacture a molecule called nitric oxide (NO).
Unfortunately, NO production is limited by five factors:
- Age: by the time a person reaches 80, NO production is reduced by 70%.
- Processed foods reduce NO production, no matter what age:
- Children as young as 10 have shown the beginnings of arterial plaque in studies;
- Palm, olive and soybean oils have been found to cause acute detrimental effect over poor function of the endothelium, even in young healthy subjects.
- Consumption of certain foods containing L-carnitine (found in red meat, some supplements and energy drinks) and certain cholines (found in red meat, eggs, liver, dairy products) reduces NO production and increases the production of a compound called TMAO:
- TMAO is formed in the gut and causes endothelium damage throughout the arterial system, as well as the gut (potentially leading to “leaky gut”).
- Fluoride in mouthwash and toothpaste hinder the microbiome from the full breakdown.
- Antacids change the microbiome in the mouth, also hindering this conversion.
There’s a silver lining to this story. We have the ability to produce NO, no matter what age. First though, check out all the amazing things that NO does:
- Keeps arteries from getting “sticky”. We want a smooth surface for the blood to flow unimpeded.
- Dilates blood vessels.
- Protects the walls of the arteries from becoming thick and inflamed, which helps prevent us from getting high blood pressure.
- Protects us from developing any blockages or plaque.
- Destroys “foam cells”, which are inflammatory cells containing cholesterol that reside inside the damaged endothelium.
- Controls and regulates vascular structure and function.
- The mechanism of the protective benefits of a plant-based diet is due to NO.
Our ability to produce NO comes down to choices — our choices. When we choose the proper foods and leave destructive foods on the store shelves, we are going to produce more NO.
What do we buy and cook? It has been shown that eating beets and leafy greens such as chard, kale, spinach, beet greens, and arugula (to name a few) helps us produce NO. It’s best to blanch the greens (steam for 5 minutes), and you get extra points for adding a touch of vinegar or something else acidic for maximum absorption.
NOTE: It’s imperative that you chew the greens. This is an essential part of the process, as it begins the break down in the mouth and continues on to the gut. So, drinking a smoothie bypasses this vital step.
THE HUMAN BODY IS VERY FORGIVING:
It only takes 8-10 days of eating a whole food plant-based diet for our body to turn things around; nitric oxide starts repairing the damage and dangerous compounds start moving out.
When you eat an animal meal, the platelets, endothelium and white blood cells and LDL cholesterol get “sticky”. This even occurs when young, healthy people eat animal products as was seen when 80% of American GI casualties (average age: 20) in Vietnam already showed active coronary artery disease.
CHECK OUT THIS STUDY:
23 men, 1 woman
Old Diet: Animal-based
All suffered from severe triple vessel coronary artery disease
Age range: 44-68
HISTORY: Had 49 “events” (angina, heart attack etc.) in an 8-year span prior to the new diet (that’s two major events per person, on average)
New Diet: Whole food plant-based (fruits, veggies, lentils, legumes, whole unprocessed grains). No nuts, avocados, no animal products, no oils, no caffeine
RESULT: 0 events in 12 years (one stopped the plan).
The patients in this study ate blanched leafy greens 5-6 times per day with a bit of vinegar, which is recommended for optimal results, especially in older people and/or those with coronary artery disease.
The way to healthy arteries lies in what we eat. Chewing leafy greens helps us produce nitric oxide, which keeps our arteries smooth, supple and plaque-free. In addition, eating a diet consisting of whole plant-based foods assures that we are preventing the production of harmful compounds that cause arterial damage in the first place.
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