Dealing with Declining Nitric Oxide
Say NO to Cardiovascular Disease
Cardiovascular disease, defined as diseases or injuries of the heart, blood vessels of the heart, or arteries and veins of the body or brain, affects 1.3 million Canadians and is associated with numerous risk factors such as hypercholesterolemia, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and family history. It’s well documented that lifestyle and dietary factors play a large role in the development of cardiovascular disease and 90% of Canadians possess at least one risk factor for heart disease or stroke.
Poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, stress, and environmental factors all increase free radicals that exacerbate the onset of this illness and the very natural act of aging predisposes us to the development of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, due to declining levels of nitric oxide.
Nitric oxide (NO), is a gas produced by the cells lining our blood vessels from the amino acid L-arginine via the enzyme nitric oxide synthase. NO exerts its effects on all tissues and organs of the body, but its most important effect is on the cardiovascular system.
NO protects the blood vessels from the effects of free radicals and it relaxes the smooth muscles of the arteries, allowing them to expand. As we age, our ability to produce NO within our cells from L-arginine declines, leading to the accumulation of proteins in the arterial walls, and results in stiffer, less flexible, more narrow arteries that don’t dilate as easily or as widely. The American Heart Association has found that adults over the age of 40, produce less than half of the NO they did when they were young. In addition, research has demonstrated that this reduced availability of NO may be responsible for the many signs and symptoms associated with aging and may be at the root cause of cardiovascular disease.
Low NO has been correlated with atherosclerosis, increased incidence of cardiovascular disease and stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, erectile dysfunction, low libido in men and women, asthma, and increased risk of diabetic complications such as renal failure, blindness, and ulcers of the extremities. A narrow artery results in less blood flow and fewer nutrients being delivered to tissues and organs. This results in symptoms of fatigue, poor memory, and a decline in overall performance.
Leafy green vegetables and nitrate rich beetroot can help increase NO levels. Vitamin C helps to protect against oxidative stress, prevents blood clotting, strengthens blood vessel walls and promotes NO availability. B12, B6, and folic acid can act to reduce homocysteine levels in the body, a compound that further exacerbates the oxidative destruction of NO and increases atherosclerosis while magnesium aids in muscle relaxation of the blood vessels, lowering blood pressure.
Hawthorne extract improves blood flow and oxygenation and the amino acid L-citrulline naturally increases NO levels better than oral L-arginine supplementation. Adequate sleep, stress management, sufficient exercise and maintaining a proper weight help to preserve and restore NO levels.
Dr. Suzanna Ivanovics, ND, operates a naturopathic practice in downtown Toronto and is a consultant at The Big Carrot.