Nitric Oxide’s Role in Modern Medicine

Published on September 16, 2013 by Dr. Jonothon Mainland

Nitric Oxide has been garnering a lot of attention in the past decade for its potential role in improving numerous health conditions. Since being named “Molecular of the Year” in 1992, Nitric Oxide has been studied for its biochemical role in everything from Blood Pressure to exercise to Alzheimer’s Disease. Nitric Oxide (NO), not to be confused with Nitrous Oxide (N2O) (commonly referred to as ‘Laughing Gas’), is a powerful ‘effector’ molecule, meaning it turns switches ‘on’ and ‘off’ in our body.

Nitric Oxide is an extremely powerful molecule that many pharmaceutical drugs act upon to improve health. Nitroglycerin, an antianginal drug, used to prevent/treat acute chest pain, helps to produce NO and ease pain, by causing vasodilation of blood vessels.

Classes of statin drugs (used to help reduce cholesterol) have also been enhanced with NO producing compounds due to a potential added therapeutic value with NO, especially in people with diabetes or atherosclerosis (plaque build-up in arteries); where an impairment in their blood vessels reduces their ability to produce Nitric Oxide.

Sildenafil (also known as Viagra®) was originally researched and developed as a new treatment for Angina. Initial trials for angina, were disappointing, but the test subjects reported a unique side effect of the drug, and the rest is history.

Sildenafil works upon converting a chemical called GTP into cGMP.  cGMP helps to cause the muscles in the wall of arteries to relax and fill with blood. The cGMP is then quickly broken down to GMP and the relaxation of these arteries is stopped. NO acting in its ‘effector’ role, helps to provide a signal to continually replenish the supply of cGMP.

NSAID drugs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) have also been an area of study in terms of combining it with the power of NO. Low dose aspirin, is routinely used to reduce the risk of thrombotic events and also cardiovascular conditions. Nevertheless, extended long-term use can increase the side effects of NSAIDs in the gastrointestinal tract.

New NSAID medications have been developed incorporating NO compounds, due to Nitric Oxide’s ability to be protective of the gastrointestinal tract, also indirectly having an effect upon inflammation and having antiplatelet effects (blood clotting).

Recent research has highlighted the importance of NO in many facets of our overall health, from heart to the immune system to even exercise! Recent research has also discovered the usage of dietary and supplemental Nitric Oxide in producing compounds called Nitrates/Nitrites and how they are readily converted to NO in the body.

Food sources of Nitrate (NO3) include beets, broccoli, coleslaw, spinach, mustard greens and tomato. Roughly 2 cups of beet root juice contain 259mg of Nitrate, while 2 cups of broccoli contain 51mg of Nitrate. Nitrate readily converts into Nitric Oxide in the body, in a two-step process. Nitrate (NO3) converts to Nitrite (NO2) which then converts to Nitric Oxide (NO).

Nitrate can also be found in supplemental form as Potassium Nitrate, which also readily converts to NO through the same two-step process. What the future holds for Nitric Oxide and its potential role in modern medicine, we don’t know; but we do know that it sure is garnering a lot of attention.

*If you are currently taking any medication, please consult your health care provider before consuming a Nitric Oxide based natural health product. Nitric Oxide based natural health products cannot replace your current medication and should be discussed with your qualified health care provider before consumption.

Image by © 2014 Alliance via DollarPhotoClub

References:

Miller MR, Megson IL. Recent developments in nitric oxide donor drugs. British Journal of Pharmacology. 2007;151(3):305–321. [PMC free article] [PubMed]

Ongini E, et al. Nitric oxide (NO)-releasing statin derivatives, a class of drugs showing enhanced antiproliferative and antiinflammatory properties. PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America), 2004: 101 (22): 8497-8502.