The miracle molecule NO (nitric oxide) & heart health

W. Gifford-Jones MD —

          My initial reaction to this news was, “It’s too good to be true”. But three researchers received the prestigious Nobel Prize for its discovery. Louise J. Ignarro, one of the prize winners, says, “There may be no disease process where this miracle molecule does not have a protective role.”

          So what is this miracle molecule? And how does it protect us from so many diseases? To find out, I interviewed Dr. Nathan S. Bryan at The University of Texas, a world authority on this minute particle.

          Bryan says that for 100 years researchers have known that nitroglycerine eased coronary pain by increasing blood supply to the heart’s muscle. But it was a mystery why arteries expanded to allow this flow. Now we know it is due to a molecule, nitric oxide (NO), which when produced, sends messages to coronary arteries and to every cell in the body in nanoseconds.

          Early in life we produce large amounts of NO in the endothelial lining (the innermost lining) of blood vessels. This keeps arteries expanded to permit a good supply of oxygenated blood to organs.

          But after age 40, nitric oxide decreases, arteries constrict, causing hypertension and increased pressure injures the inner wall of coronary arteries. This damage results in a chemical and inflammatory reaction that kills one North American every 37 seconds, making heart attack the nation’s number one killer.

          Bryan adds this interesting fact. “Nitric oxide first attained star status when treating erectile dysfunction. ED is cured by drugs that produce NO, sending increased amounts of blood to the male organ.”

          But bringing more oxygenated blood to cells fights other common problems as well. Bryan claims decreased amounts of NO may play a major role in the development of Type 2 diabetes. Low levels of NO result in insulin resistance, making it difficult for insulin to enter cells to maintain normal blood sugar level. High blood sugar triggers heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, amputation of legs.  Italian researchers discovered that diabetes patients with kidney disease had nitric oxide levels 37 percent lower than healthy people.

          Millions of North Americans also suffer from arthritis, a debilitating condition. Researchers at the University of Colorado say that NO increases blood supply to nerves and eases joint inflammation which can result in dramatic relief to patients with osteoarthritis.

          More researchers at the University of Calgary report that nitric oxide levels are significantly lower in patients suffering from depression.  So if you’re feeling glum, tired, falling asleep in the afternoon, or concerned about high blood cholesterol, low NO may be a factor.

          If you’re planning a trip to Mexico City or Aspen, Colorado, both 7,000 feet high, you should consider improving your NO levels. This could prevent respiratory problems by improving lung function. Tibetans living at high altitudes have 10 X the amount of NO in their blood than those living at sea level!

          Dark leafy greens such as spinach contain nitrate that turns into nitrite producing NO. Apple juice, tea, dark chocolate, red wine and a brisk walk also produce NO.

          A natural product called Neo40 that produces nitric acid is now available in Health Food Stores. Dr. Bryan suggests one tablet every 12 hours for two weeks until the level of NO increases, then one tablet a day. Tablets are dissolved slowly in the mouth.

          Dr. Bryan reports that some people take L-arginine to produce NO. But Neo40, is more effective in boosting NO because it contains L-citrulline, vitamin C, beet root and hawthorn.                 

          I’ve added Neo40 to my daily routine of taking large doses of vitamin C which I’m convinced has kept me alive for 19 years after a heart attack. I believe the addition of Neo40 is an added benefit. Besides, as you get older endothelial cells, like other cells, age and lose some ability to respond to either natural or prescription drugs. 

          Sir William Osler Professor at McGiIl, Johns Hopkins and Oxford Universities said that we are only as healthy as our arteries. He could have added, “As long as they have sufficient nitric oxide.” 

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Dr. W. Gifford-Jones is a Harbourfront resident