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Health July 2018

Say Yes to ‘NO’

By Carrie Luger Slayback

Aging cells produce less nitric oxide, so blood vessels become less flexible, contributing to hypertension, inflammation in blood vessels, and plaque buildup — NO is known as a vasodilator, fighting cardiovascular disease.

I didn’t know how smart I was when I stuck that six pack of chard plants in our little backyard garden. Nitric oxide and dietary nitrate — chard’s full of it, and you should be too.

Here’s why according to Dr. Conor Kerley of nutritionstudies.org: “Nitric oxide, [ abbreviated NO] is one of the most important molecules in the body, involved in virtually every organ system…it makes blood vessels bigger — of huge importance [to seniors] because bigger blood vessels means more blood flow around the body without the…heart working harder.” 

“NO,” discovered in 1992, was named molecule of the year for its importance to health and disease prevention. And it took the 1998 Nobel Prize in Physiology for Medicine.

Listen to Janine Barone of berkeleywellness.com who spells out more benefits of NO:

  • Nitric oxide has anti-inflammatory effects, helping prevent platelets and white blood cells from adhering to the lining of blood vessels, thus reducing the risk of plaque development.
  • Aging cells produce less nitric oxide, so blood vessels become less flexible, contributing to hypertension, inflammation in blood vessels, and plaque buildup — NO is known as a vasodilator, fighting cardiovascular disease.
  • NO plays key roles in a variety of neurological processes — as a neurotransmitter. Nitric oxide may impact memory, cognitive function and be involved in conditions such as depression, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s.
  • Certain immune cells generate nitric oxide, which is important as a defense against bacteria and other pathogens. NO regulates the activity, growth, and death of many immune and inflammatory cell types.

Are you convinced that NO is right for you?

Why not just take a pill? NO is produced by an enzyme for an amino acid called L-Arginine which is available in supplement form. Don’t buy it, according to Kerley: “long-term use and has been associated with less NO and excess death when given to patients after a heart attack.” NO’s found in legumes and nuts, but in this form, older people or smokers don’t convert it so well.

There’s one way to receive NO’s benefits — eat your vegetables!

Here’s why chomping greens works – you need “spit.” Chewing nitrate-rich vegetables like lettuce, spinach, chard, kale makes “dietary nitrate — which recirculates into the saliva where bacteria in the mouth convert it to nitrite,” notes Kerley. “This nitrite is swallowed and can be further converted into NO either in the stomach, blood vessels, or within tissues.”

So, getting down to business, exactly what vegetables contribute to NO’s benefits?  Cabbage, chard, arugula, lettuce, frozen spinach, fennel, radishes, parsley, beet juice and to a lesser extent carrots and celery are all NO powerhouses.

For decades I’ve been telling my sandwich-loving son and husband not to eat cured meats due to nitrates and nitrites. Yet, here I am extolling the virtues of nitrites. Turns out I was right both times.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and Harvard’s Department of Nutrition among others warn against eating lots of bacon and baloney. Harvard says, “Meat processing such as curing (e.g. by adding nitrates or nitrites) or smoking can lead to the formation of potentially cancer-causing (carcinogenic) chemicals” in the human body.  WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced that consumption of processed meat is carcinogenic to humans. In spite of the dire warnings, eating an occasional ball park hot dog or salami sandwich isn’t going to send you to the oncologist. However, eating greens every day is guaranteed to contribute to good health.

So back to that vegetable patch. You can grow chard on a ledge or patio. It’s the plant that keeps on giving. Cut off the biggest leaves, eat ‘em, and by the time you look again, you’ve got a new crop ready to contribute to you heart, brain and immune health. Now there’s a wholesome harvest!

 

Carrie Luger Slayback an award winning teacher and champion marathoner, shares personal experience and careful research. Contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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