The Power of NO

The Power of NO
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Antioxidants protect NO synthase—the enzyme that produces the artery-relaxing signal, nitric oxide. This may explain why those who eat especially antioxidant-rich plant foods have improved flow-mediated dilation of the brachial arteries.

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Our understanding of nitric oxide has come a long way since it was named “molecule of the year” in 1992, and won some folks a Nobel Prize in ’98. It is a key biological messenger within the body, and its message is: “open sesame.” It’s released by the lining of our arteries to tell the muscle fibers within the walls of our arteries to relax, so our arteries open up and let the blood flow.

That’s why when people are having a heart attack, they’re giving nitroglycerine, which our body converts to nitric oxide to open up our arteries. In fact that’s how Viagra works: it boosts nitric oxide signaling, which leads to dilation of the penile arteries.

The ED we really need to be concerned about, though, is endothelial dysfunction: dysfunction of the lining of all our arteries, considered a first step toward atherosclerosis, our leading cause of death.

Here’s what happens: NO, nitric oxide, is produced by an enzyme called NO synthase. If you have a lot of free radicals in your body, though, they come in and not only gobble up the NO—they hijack this enzyme. They hijack NO synthase, take it over, and have it instead start making more free radicals.

So our arteries become dysfunctional. They don’t relax when they should. And that can contribute to the hardening of our arteries.

If, however, we flood our body with antioxidants by eating healthy foods, it should quench those free radicals, and let NO get back to its job.

So recently, for the first time ever, researchers studied the effects of eating high-antioxidant foods on NO activity. We saw what choosing higher antioxidant plant foods did to inflammation. What effect does it have on our arterial function?

You can hook people up to a device that measures the dilation of their arteries and blood flow through ultrasound. In the study, people started eating their normal miserable diet, then switched to an even more miserable diet, and their arterial dilation capacity dropped, though not significantly.

They started out eating a pretty crappy diet to begin with, but which they then let people get back to, and so then their NO activity came back to baseline. Then they had these people eat the higher-antioxidant foods, like berries, and within a period of just two weeks, a significant jump in their arteries’ ability to relax and dilate normally.

This is where they should have been in the first place, or even higher. This study suggests that choosing antioxidant-rich plant foods can improve blood flow to all parts of our bodies.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is transcript contributed by Bruce A. Hamilton.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Benjah-bmm27 via Wikimedia Commons, and European Atherosclerosis Society.

Our understanding of nitric oxide has come a long way since it was named “molecule of the year” in 1992, and won some folks a Nobel Prize in ’98. It is a key biological messenger within the body, and its message is: “open sesame.” It’s released by the lining of our arteries to tell the muscle fibers within the walls of our arteries to relax, so our arteries open up and let the blood flow.

That’s why when people are having a heart attack, they’re giving nitroglycerine, which our body converts to nitric oxide to open up our arteries. In fact that’s how Viagra works: it boosts nitric oxide signaling, which leads to dilation of the penile arteries.

The ED we really need to be concerned about, though, is endothelial dysfunction: dysfunction of the lining of all our arteries, considered a first step toward atherosclerosis, our leading cause of death.

Here’s what happens: NO, nitric oxide, is produced by an enzyme called NO synthase. If you have a lot of free radicals in your body, though, they come in and not only gobble up the NO—they hijack this enzyme. They hijack NO synthase, take it over, and have it instead start making more free radicals.

So our arteries become dysfunctional. They don’t relax when they should. And that can contribute to the hardening of our arteries.

If, however, we flood our body with antioxidants by eating healthy foods, it should quench those free radicals, and let NO get back to its job.

So recently, for the first time ever, researchers studied the effects of eating high-antioxidant foods on NO activity. We saw what choosing higher antioxidant plant foods did to inflammation. What effect does it have on our arterial function?

You can hook people up to a device that measures the dilation of their arteries and blood flow through ultrasound. In the study, people started eating their normal miserable diet, then switched to an even more miserable diet, and their arterial dilation capacity dropped, though not significantly.

They started out eating a pretty crappy diet to begin with, but which they then let people get back to, and so then their NO activity came back to baseline. Then they had these people eat the higher-antioxidant foods, like berries, and within a period of just two weeks, a significant jump in their arteries’ ability to relax and dilate normally.

This is where they should have been in the first place, or even higher. This study suggests that choosing antioxidant-rich plant foods can improve blood flow to all parts of our bodies.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is transcript contributed by Bruce A. Hamilton.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Benjah-bmm27 via Wikimedia Commons, and European Atherosclerosis Society.

Doctor's Note

Be sure to check out all my other videos on antioxidants and don’t miss my other videos on heart disease.

For more context, check out my associated blog posts: Antioxidants in a Pinch: Dried Herbs and Spices, and Hibiscus Tea: The Best Beverage?

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

30 responses to “The Power of NO

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  1. Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. Be sure to check out all the other videos on antioxidants and don’t miss the videos on heart disease. And there are 1,449 subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them!




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      1.  These studies relate to what is happening in our arteries and not veins. I don’t know of studies directly addressing venous insufficiency and diet. However people following a plant based diet tend to be thinner which is associated with less lower extremity venous difficulties. I would imagine that foods that tend to cause inflammation & clotting would be associated with more DVT’s. These include Arachidonic Acid see http://nutritionfacts.org/video/chicken-eggs-and-inflammation/  and http://nutritionfacts.org/video/inflammatory-remarks-about-arachidonic-acid/. It would also make sense that foods that promote anti-inflammation and anti clotting (omega 3, EPA, DHA) would be associated with less DVT’s.  See the videos…  http://nutritionfacts.org/video/good-great-bad-killer-fats/ and http://nutritionfacts.org/video/algae-based-dha-vs-flax-2/. Of course you never know when a study on DVT’s and diet will appear so stay tuned to NutritionFacts.org.




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  2. Fascinating study on flow mediated dilation…perhaps the effects of higher antioxidant consumption by vegetarians (compared to omnivores) may also explain some of the heart health benefits of vegetarianism reported by Dean Ornish’s lab. Given the vastly higher antioxidant content of plant foods compared to animal foods, I wonder if higher antioxidant intake may better explain heart health benefits of vegetarianism than reduced cholesterol/saturated fat intake. I look forward to future videos on this topic!




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  3. Could you please do some videos on Whey Protein? I am interested in if they :
    contain any bad chemical residues
    have any cognitive benefits
    have any anti-cancer benefits
    have any satiety or weight loss benefits
    and anything else related to health and illness. Thanks for the great work you do.

    I tried clicking on your Ask the Doctor link but it seems to be broken.




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  4. Hi Doc, hi Toxins,

    Am crazily addicted w/ health knowledge from doctor Greger and his crew.

    please kindly help me, are there any correlation between arterial elasticity w/ heart beat rate and VO2max ? please kindly provide the literature study, thx much.




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  5. Given that ED drugs work by raising NO levels, and there is now apparently a regimen of daily low-dose Cialis for ED patients, might this regimen be beneficial for an adult male who is physically active, not suffering from ED, but at risk of cardiovascular disease due to age, sex, familial risk, and past diet?




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  6. Dr Esselstyn said on Forks over Knives the Extended Interviews that recent studies now show the same effect on endothelial cells from olive oil, palm oil and soybean oil as from animal fat. Can you address that please?




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    1. I too would like to know the answer to this question from Cynthia. Believe it or not, I’ve just discovered the video mentioned – Forks Over Knives – this month, 2016, three years later! I’ll be looking elsewhere for the answer to Cynthia’s question, including among Dr. Greger’s videos, but I’d love to see an answer here … probably others are interested also. I have some plaque in my arteries, so it’s of great interest as I’m in the process of switching to a vegan diet. Thanks much.




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      1. Sunnyjoy: There is a relatively recent video that looks at olive oil and it’s impact on endothelial cells: http://nutritionfacts.org/video/olive-oil-and-artery-function/
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        Some perspective: In his book, How Not To Die, Dr. Greger says “I think of oil as the table sugar of the fat kingdom. Similar to the way manufacturers take healthy foods like beats and throw out all their nutiriotn to make surgar, they take wholesome corn and scorch-earth it down to corn oil.” With that in mind, my approach is to treat oil just like table sugar – an empty calorie. In the case of table sugar, the empty calorie is a highly processed/extracted simple carbohydrate. In the case oils, it is a highly processed/extracted fat. I might have some of each in a dessert, but I don’t kid myself that either is healthy. Dr. Greger calls oils a “yellow light” food. A yellow light food is one that should be eaten with caution – and usually only if you are using that food to help you eat more of a green light food.
        .
        Here is a search for all videos which mention “endothelial” You may find other videos of interest here: http://nutritionfacts.org/?fwp_search=endothelial&fwp_content_type=video And here are Dr. Greger’s nutrition recommendations. Note that Dr. Greger generally recommends whole plant foods and that oils are nowhere on the list. http://nutritionfacts.org/2011/09/12/dr-gregers-2011-optimum-nutrition-recommendations/
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        I’m happy to hear that you are working on trying to fix the your plaque problem. Let us know if you have any questions about switching to a healthy diet. The devil is in the details. Good luck!




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  7. What about BPA tomato paste in cans? I bought some and don’t know if I should eat it or not. I’ll have to buy organic in the future.

    Also would about conventional strawberries, grapes, celery and blueberries? I can’t always afford organic. Should I avoid them then? I’m in college and am broke.




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    1. Derrek: Dr. Greger has a great blog post where he puts pesticide consumption into perspective. :

      “A new study calculated that if half the U.S. population ate just one more serving of conventional fruits and vegetables, 20,000 cases of cancer could be prevented. At the same time the added pesticide consumption could cause up to 10 extra cancer cases. So by eating conventional produce we may get a tiny bump in cancer risk, but that’s more than compensated by the dramatic drop in risk that accompanies whole food plant consumption. Even if all we had to eat was the most contaminated produce the benefits would far outweigh any risks.”

      from: http://nutritionfacts.org/2013/06/25/apple-peels-turn-on-anticancer-genes/

      I translate this bit of info into: Eat organic when you can, but don’t stress about it when you can’t.

      Happily, there is a way to take this advice a step further to minimize your risks without completely depleting the pocketbook. Every year, the Environmental Working Group actually measures pesticide levels in fruits and veggies–after those fruits and veggies have been prepared in the way people would normally eat them. (For example, peeling a banana or washing first.) If you scroll down on the following page, you will see a list for the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean Fifteen”.

      http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php

      I bring your attention to these lists because I think they are very helpful for people who can’t afford to eat organic for everything. You could use these lists to help you decide when it is worth putting down money for organic and when it might be safer to buy non-organic.




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  8. Are there any new ideas about how to HELP HAND AND FINGER PAIN?
    I am in a very painful situation with my hands. How can I reverse this and is Aleve safe to take? I do not want drugs, but am Vegetarian with severe hand pain. Thanks for any light we can shed on this~ What foods could help pain?




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  9. What role, if any, would an increase in Nitric Oxide play in the “repair” of the endothelial lining of artery? Everything I’ve come to learn about this subject points to a “flexibility” of artery or an “increase in blood flow” benefit.
    I am aware of the fact that the endothelium becomes stiff and cracks as one ages, thereafter causing bacteria to enter and corrupt the “vessel wall” itself. As I understand it, this is the first stage of arteriosclerosis. Further, this stiffening and cracking of lining happens as result of lowered NO levels. Is this to say that an NO increase then would have reverse effect, aka repair of lining? It’s confusing as I’ve noted that there is an “immediate” benefit of arterial relaxation shortly after, say, eating NO increase foods or supplements but how is that possible? Repair of stiffened lining could not happen that quickly!




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  10. I love the videos. Especially that you provide scientific support for each statement. They led me to dramatically change my diet to include many sources of nitric oxide and antioxidants – cocoa, beets, nuts, cumin, cloves, hibiscus, flax seeds, spinach, etc. My goal was to promote the health of my heart and also reduce cancer risk. By some measures my cardio health has improved.

    Some sites warn that it is possible to overdose from nitric oxide. These sites are primarily referring to nitric oxide supplements and inhaled nitric oxide. They warn of a variety of adverse reactions including organ damage.

    My question: Is it possible to overdose on dietary nitric oxide?

    Thank you for creating this great resource. It is more valuable than many doctors I’ve seen in person.




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    1. Linda Anderson: My very favorite question! In addition to Darchite’s answer, consider going through the free 21 Day Kickstart program by PCRM (Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine). Dr. Greger has recommended this program, and they will hold your hand for 21 days, including meal plans, recipes, videos, inspirational messages, and a forum (moderated by a very respected RD) where you can ask questions. For some people, this is too much. But for others, this program is just what they are looking for.
      http://www.pcrm.org/kickstartHome/
      (Click the green “Register Now” button.)




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  11. Hi Dr. Greger, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure in October 2016. My bp was 187/107 heart rate at 108. Since then I have changed my diet to a plant based diet. My cardiologist has me on 2 pills one called Vasodip the other Cardioloc. Thet halter monitor tested me and found recurring episodes of PAT with bloc. So right now after 3 months my BP is about 117-124 systolic and 64-70 diastolic in the morning with a resting HR of 47-55. My cardiologist does not feel 47 is to low for me. I do not have any side effects from the low blood pressure but wanted to ask you your thoughts. I have been on a vegan diet for a month no salt, but oil seems to be the one I have a hard time with.




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    1. Tsephanyah: I forwarded your post onto our medical moderators in the hopes that someone will answer your question.
      .
      I the meantime, I thought I would ask you a clarifying question: Are you only asking if your blood pressure is too low, or do you have a long term goal of getting off the meds and want to know how to do that?




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      1. I was questioning if my heart rate was to low. My wife was concerned. I had I night where it went as low as 38. But yes I do have a long term goal of getting off the meds with just dietary changes and exercise.




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        1. Tsephanyah: You got a great reply from Dr. Alan Kadish. I would just add that if your long term goal is to get off the meds, that you make make sure you have a doctor who is familiar with WFPB eating and weaning people off of their meds. It may not be possible in your case (I’m not a doctor and I have no idea), but it is unlikely to happen if your doctor is not used to people getting better.
          .
          Also, I have often heard experts say that eating a WFPB can result in “rapid healing”. So, people on high blood pressure meds need to work closely with a supportive doctor who understands that meds may need to be cut back quickly.
          .
          You mentioned that you switched to a “plant based diet”, but did not provided details on what you meant by that. I’m not asking you to provide details. I just want to point out that that phrase could mean a lot of things to a lot of people. Dr. Greger talks about what specifically can help with high blood pressure in a chapter in his book How Not To Die. You can also find a lot of information here on this site. Here is the summary topic page for blood pressure: http://nutritionfacts.org/topics/blood-pressure . The point I’m trying to make is that you might be able to further tweak your diet (if you are not already doing these things) to get more success in this area to further help you meet your goals of getting off the meds.

          .
          As I said, I’m not an expert. I just thought I might provide some helpful ideas. Good luck!




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    2. Tsephanyah,

      As you’re aware this site is not intended to give medical advice.

      With that said, nice work on the change of diet !! Clearly the change to a much more normal blood pressure is very much in your favor. I’d be curious and perhaps a conversation with your cardiologist is in order to do a repeat holter monitor for 24-48 hours and see if indeed you’re experiencing PAT currently. I’d also check your electrolytes and thyroid just to be certain that the change in medications and the doses are appropriate especially, given your dietary changes and the obvious results.

      There is some degree of disagreement with having a resting HR in the 40’s , however that would be dependant on so many factors that I again would be inclined to have you consult with your cardiologist. Please appreciate that PAT can occur from a number of causes and without a full history it does you a disservice to give specific advice. Dr. Alan Kadish moderator for Dr. Greger




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      1. Thank you for your assistance and Happy New Year! I really love this website and the information that is shared here big KUDOS to all of you that work here.




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