In 1998, a pivotal discovery earning the Nobel Prize in Medicine, led to the discovery of a "miracle molecule" called Nitric Oxide (NO). The Nitric Oxide molecule is a gas which is produced inside the endothelial lining of all blood vessels. The endothelial layer is a thin layer which forms a barrier between the flowing blood and the 60,000 - 100,000 miles of blood vessel walls. It consists of a one-cell layer thickness inside the innermost portion of these vessels. Nitric Oxide is a powerful vasodilator. When released, it relaxes the muscle fibers within the walls of the arteries to increase blood flow as needed. Preserving the health of our endothelial cells is crucial in both maintaining the flexibility of the blood vessel walls and providing a continuous supply of nitric oxide. Together, these two components keep our vessels dilated, ensuring adequate blood flow.
During a heart attack, in order to open up the arteries, patients are given nitroglycerine which our bodies convert to nitric oxide. Levels of Nitric Oxide are constantly changing because the gas lasts for only a few seconds. The health and performance of our endothelial cells is determined by the types of food that we eat. High-fat meals containing animal products, refined vegetable oils and processed sugars, as well as a sedentary lifestyle and smoking damage these cells and promote inflammation. This damage allows plaque (cholesterol) to accumulate, causing atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Damage can occur after consuming a single high-fat meal of animal products. As a result, the vessels lose their elasticity and ability to dilate. They are vulnerable to spasm, and can become stiff and/or paralyzed, which impairs the flow of oxygenated blood. This condition can last for several hours.
In the video below, Dr. Michael Greger explains how important it is to maintain a constant flow of Nitric Oxide. "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."
For the very first time, researchers studied how foods high in antioxidants affected Nitric Oxide activity. Researchers already knew how antioxidants prevent and reverse inflammation, so they used the brachial artery tourniquet test to measure what affect antioxidants have on arterial function. This test measures the diameter of the brachial artery of the upper arm before and after consuming different foods. The test determines endothelial function by determining how well the artery is able to return back to its previous size before the meal. It is able to determine how much Nitric Oxide the endothelial cells produce. During this test, a blood pressure cuff is inflated on the lower arm, closing off the artery until the flow of blood stops. When the cuff is deflated, an ultrasound then measures the ability of the arteries to restore blood flow to the arm. The participants used for this study ate the typical American diet and had reduced arterial dilation capacity. For two weeks, the participants then ate a diet rich in whole plant foods, which contains hundreds of thousands of antioxidants. Their arteries were tested once again. After just two weeks, their arteries showed a significant ability to relax and dilate normally. The study concluded that "choosing antioxidant-rich plant foods can improve blood flow to all parts of our bodies."
Which foods contain the highest level of antioxidants? My blog, "Eggs Contain Few Antioxidants" demonstrates how plant foods, on average, contain 64 times more antioxidant power than animal foods. Animal products have minimal or no antioxidants. The two publications referenced in the blog were both analyzed and published by the USDA. Green leafy plants contain the highest levels along with many dried herbs and spices.
Keep your endothelial cells healthy by eating a diet based on antioxidant-rich whole plant foods! Healthy cells produce long-lasting and more stable Nitric Oxide, whereas animal products, refined sugar, fast foods and refined vegetable oils damage these cells. Optimal health depends on optimal blood flow. When atherosclerotic plaque builds up on the inside of our arteries, nutrients and oxygen levels are reduced, and our cells starve. Consequently, "every disease known to man may be generated."