If you were asked to rate your health, how would you answer? What would you base your answer on? The presence (or absence) of a disease, such as cancer, diabetes, or hypertension? Your blood test results? Your diet and exercise habits?
All of these factors have a say in where your health status stands. Yet, an extremely important factor is not to be overlooked - your endothelium health. The endothelium is a single layer of cells that line your arteries. Endothelium health is essential for your overall health. Anything that hurts your endothelium can hurt every other organ in your body. This is because your endothelium effects blood flow to all body organs.
Endothelial cells release many types of chemicals that control blood flow or blood clotting. One chemical that particularly stands out, though, is a miracle-working molecule known as nitric oxide (NO). Much like a full-body swedish massage, NO relaxes the muscle cells in the muscular layer of artery walls. As muscles relax, the diameter of the blood vessel widens out making room for more blood flow. This action is tightly controlled to ensure various organs get just the right amount of blood they need.
Think of NO as your body's natural protection against many diseases. NO protects the endothelium. It also protects against many other conditions, including hypertension, high blood cholesterol, insulin resistance, cancer, stroke, heart attack, osteoporosis and COPD. If there's one thing that all these diseases have in common, it's their link to reduced nitric oxide availability.
Nitric oxide helps keep endothelium walls clean. It helps vessel walls maintain a "Teflon" quality, preventing platelets from sticking to the vessel walls. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that low nitric oxide levels are associated with various cardiovascular problems, including hypertension, heart attack and stroke, or atherosclerosis.
Looking for an affordable and simple way to treat or prevent high blood pressure? By acting as a "vasodilator", NO helps vessel walls relax. This prevents the walls from being too constricted or stiff, which can lead to high blood pressure. Studies have shown that even dietary sources of NO can help reduce blood pressure in both healthy people and hypertensive patients.
Nitric oxide also has antinflammatory properties. It helps prevent many types of inflammatory cells from sticking to and even entering blood vessel walls.
NO also improves and prevents insulin resistance. It improves insulin secretion, enhances the effects of insulin by helping cells efficiently remove glucose from blood.
Research shows that dietary sources of NO (from fruits and vegetables) can be converted to nitrosothiols, which can improve cardiopulmonary function in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Where Does NO come from?
The body can produce NO on its own (endogenously) from the amino acid arginine with the help of an enzyme known as nitric oxide synthase (NOS). (Food sources of arginine include fresh vegetables, poultry, fish, peanuts, soybeans, spirulina, garlic, lentils, and grains such as oats and whole wheat.) Getting at least one hour of cardiovascular exercise each week is another important way to stimulate NO production. Cardiovascular exercise gets the heart pumping faster and stronger, promotes blood flow, and thus boosts NO production. The body can also produce NO by using the foods we eat. Nitrites and nitrates from foods we eat can be converted to NO in the stomach. Green leafy vegetables are an excellent source of NO precursors. Lettuce, spinach, and beetroot are all rich in NO precursors. In fact, one serving of such a vegetable contains more nitrate than what your body can produce on its own during a full day. Excellent sources of nitrates and nitrites for NO production include radishes, celery, rucola, mushrooms, cabbage, broccoli, green beans, strawberries, bananas, green peppers, mustard greens, and tomatoes. Savoy cabbage, dill, turnip, kohlrabi, leeks, and parlsey are good sources, too.
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