Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Nitric Oxide and Endothelial Cells (How to Prevent Heart Disease and Dementia at the Same Time)

I've referenced Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn's work on preventing and reversing heart disease several times in this blog. (Search for "Esselstyn" for previous posts using the Search engine in the left margin.) He is well-known for laymanizing (my term for putting science in layman's terms) the critical link between oil/fats, nitric oxide, and the endothelial lining or arteries.

In today's Happy Healthy Long Life blog post this connection is further explained on the basis of newly published research. In her typical clear and thorough fashion, medical research librarian and plant-based proponent (and Esselstyn fan) Debby explains the new research and why the same diet/lifestyle factors that promote heart health also may prevent dementia by keeping blood flow to the brain healthy. (She doesn't mention this in her post, but the same applies to erectile dysfunction for men since the healthy version of that event is dependent, at least in part, on vigorous and sustained blood flow which is dependent on open and elastic arteries which are dependent on nitric oxide and a healthy endothelial lining in the arteries. Or you could just take a pill and hope you don't land in the ER after four hours! But I digress.)

Debby's entire post is worth the few minutes it will take to read it. If you don't have time for that, here is the take away in terms of diet and lifestyle — what stimulates the endothelial cells to release ample supplies of nitric oxide:

What impairs the supply of nitric oxide?

It's a Catch-22. Nitric oxide is diminished by all the usual suspects--the cardiovascular risk factors--like high cholesterol, high triglycerides, high homocysteine, high CRP (marker for inflammation), insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and smoking. These culprits impair the delicate endothelial cells' ability to produce ample nitric oxide.

What role does diet play in this endothelial cell/nitric oxide story?

Here's how Dr. Esselstyn explains it: "The basic understanding we all need to accept is that with every meal of oil, dairy, or meat we eat, within minutes there is damage & injury to the "life jackets" of our vascular health--which is the single layer of endothelial cells that line all of our blood vessels. The endothelial cells produce the "magical gas" called nitric oxide which keeps our blood vessels relaxed, prevents our white blood cells & platelets from becoming sticky, and prevents the growth of plaque--the dread "hardening of the arteries".

Is there anything we can eat to insure that our endothelial cells will have the raw materials to produce this healing nitric oxide?

Beans & leafy greens. Load up on kale, collards, Swiss chard, bok choy & beans and you will be well on your way to healing the linings of your blood vessels. Ditch the meat, dairy, & oil. And be sure to include a daily bowl of oatmeal while you're at it--with its nitric-oxide increasing avenanthramides.

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