The heart is the most vital organ in the body, so it’s essential to do everything within your power to support heart health. This includes not smoking, not drinking to excess, and getting enough exercise and sleep. Beyond those, there are other things you can do to ensure a healthy heart for as long as possible. The Role of Cholesterol in Heart Health The connection between cholesterol and heart health is widely proven in scientific studies. Cholesterol is a major contributor to a condition known as atherosclerosis, which increases the risk of stroke and heart attack. Heart disease is the leading
Often, the smallest, simplest molecules have the greatest importance. Nitric oxide (NO) is made up of one atom of nitrogen and one atom of oxygen. It is one of the most important molecules able to influence metabolic activities and
foods such as beets, spinach, lettuce, bok choy, celery and so many of the healthiest vegetables in the world. In fact, researchers think that higher NO production through increased nitrate and nitrite consumption may be in large part responsible for the health benefits attributed to diets such as the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet (the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) which exceeds the acceptable daily intake for nitrate set by the World Health Organization by 550%.1 Vegetarian diets and the newer trend of a vegan diet are also known to produce lower blood pressures and hence better cardiovascular function and exercise endurance.2
The Age Factor
NO production in the body decreases after the age of 30, and blood vessel production of NO is almost totally compromised between the ages of 60-80.3,4,5 But the ability of the blood vessels to respond to NO doesn’t change. So while dietary nitrate and nitrite consumption can benefit younger, recreationally active people during exercise and at rest (in fact, most of the athletic performance studies have used healthy male subjects in their 20s, and most have found benefits), it may hold even greater benefits for middle-aged and elderly people. In fact, a small study noted that older adults around the age of 70 did not even actually absorb nitrate from nitrate-rich foods but did so from nitrate supplements, making supplementing with nitrates even more important as you age.6
Exercise and Your NO Levels
If you exercise, then you are already doing one of the best things you can to protect yourself against the age-related decline in NO production in your blood vessels and against arterial stiffness.3 But exercise also increases the responsiveness of the blood vessels to NO! A study on healthy older adults aged 60-72 years found that the blood vessels of those who exercised, burning the equivalent of calories to walking 1 hour a day, were almost 10% more responsive to nitroglycerin (an NO source given orally) than those who were less active.7
NO and Your Fitness Levels
NO helps regulate many different functions in the body including sleep, immunity, bone health, multiple aspects of cardiovascular health such as the blood pressure, blood clotting, cholesterol, and more. Of course, all of these influence health and fitness. But more specifically, NO can benefit exercise capacity, fitness and athletic performance in several interlinked ways.
NO has come to be known as the “endothelial-derived relaxation factor”. What this means is that NO is produced by cells lining the blood vessels, and it signals the blood vessels to relax or widen. This reduces blood pressure and improves blood flow. As a result, more oxygen and nutrients get delivered to the muscles and the heart, allowing them to function better at the same exercise intensity. This is called improving your VO2, or the amount of oxygen you need to use at a given exercise intensity, and is one of the main goals and outcomes of endurance training. The fitter an endurance athlete is, the harder and longer they can work with less oxygen at a given exercise intensity.
The presence of NO seems to increase energy production efficiency. Supplementing with a nitrate source causes muscles to use less energy during contractions, do more work, and delay fatigue during exercise. Supplemental nitrates have also been shown to allow mitochondria to produce more energy more efficiently by enhancing their function.8 This is especially important for people with disorders related to mitochondrial dysfunction and during aging since mitochondrial damage accumulates with age and is thought to be related to a host of common age-related diseases (including vascular dysfunction or hypertension.
Beetroot Juice Studies
Most beetroot juice studies have been done on cycling, walking and running, and with the exception of some elite, highly trained athletes, they have all found improved performance.9,10 A clinical study compared the effects of beetroot juice versus
People with arterial or cardiovascular diseases are no exception. Studies have shown that people with peripheral arterial disease get the same benefits from beetroot juice during exercise as mentioned above.16
Supplemental Nitrate Studies
Since nitrate is the active component in beet juice, some studies have used sodium nitrate as a direct supplement and have found similar benefits as those using nitrate-rich beet juice. If beet juice is not your thing, you can opt for a nitrate supplement. Since NO also increases circulation and the delivery of blood, oxygen
Combining Nitrate with Other Supplements
Panax ginseng has been
Studies have found that Panax ginseng can help improve
In COPD patients, all measures of lung function
It’s easy to see why nitric oxide is so popular in research and in the media recently. Not only is consuming adequate nitrates and nitrites through a healthy diet important for producing nitric oxide, but other nutrients that support NO’s production and function in the body may be very useful for the young and old alike.
What You Need to Know
Due to their ability to produce nitric oxide (NO) in the body, nitrate-rich beet juice or isolated nitrate supplements have been shown to improve physical performance and delay fatigue by reducing the body’s oxygen requirements, improving the body’s energy production and usage and enhancing mitochondrial function, particularly in recreational athletes, people who are trying to become more active and in older adults. Cyclists, runners, walkers and those involved in intermittent high-intensity activities/sports have been shown to perform better after consuming nitrates. Middle-aged people, the elderly and those with compromised exercise capacities due to lung or cardiovascular complications can greatly benefit from nitric oxide-enhancing supplements.