Athletes use beet juice to enhance stamina and improve recovery time. There’s good scientific research on how this works by increasing a very important molecule Nitric Oxide (NO). Read how to make it work for you and what other foods boost your nitric oxide!
Ready to make Beet Burgers!
Boost Your Nitric Oxide – Chew, Hum, Breathe! (and why we love our greens!)
Let’s look at why we need Nitric Oxide (NO) and how to increase it! NO is of key importance to the health of your blood vessels. It supports the function of the endothelium (the smooth lining of your blood vessels), helping blood vessels dilate and preventing platelet aggregation and plaque formation; this provides important protection against coronary artery disease. Keep in mind, your blood vessels are essential to the function of every cell in your body since they carry blood, oxygen and nutrients to your whole body – to every organ system – your heart, kidneys, muscles, gut, brain! NO also is an important “signaling molecule” and plays a role in how your mitochondria (the energy producers in your cells) function, your immune function, cell growth and neuro transmission. (1)
CHEW (and skip the mouth wash and antacids)
How do we make sure we get enough NO? What does “chewing” have to do with it? You may have heard of athletes taking NO supplements to improve performance. However, a much more effective way is through the food you choose and chew. Greens and beans are great boosters of NO production. Clinical researcher Caldwell Esselstyn MD, author of Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, encourages “chewing” greens 3 times a day; he notes that drinking your kale in a smoothy bypasses one of the key steps!
So how is NO made? When you chew a plant containing Nitrate, certain oral bacteria break it down, into Nitrite. Yes, your mouth contains helpful bacteria, that mouth washes can harm!! If you’re just swallowing your kale in a smoothy, this important first step doesn’t happen, unless you chew your smoothy. Next, in your stomach, the acid converts nitrite into NO, which then passes into our circulation to work its wonders. Sooooo…. if we’re taking antacids or proton pump inhibitors (think Prilosec, omeprazole…), the stomach acid is suppressed and can’t do its job converting nitrite to NO, thus increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. (2) Fortunately, following a WFPB, no oil lifestyle eliminates acid indigestion for most people; you’ll recall Chef Nick and Adam’s testimonials of indigestion being resolved by their dietary change. So, when they got rid of the antacids, their NO levels improved, helping their, blood vessels, blood pressure, and hearts.
Foods that contain nitrate that can be converted to NO by this mechanism include bok choi, spinach, mustard greens, carrot, cabbage, eggplant, beans, broccoli, kale, collard greens, beets, beet greens, mustard greens, nappa cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cilantro, parsley, spinach, arugula, and asparagus. The top five are kale, Swiss chard, spinach, arugula, beet greens, and beets. Here’s my favorite beet burger recipe by Ann Esselstyn. And even citrus fruits help; the Vitamin C increases nitric oxide absorption. And hooray for the fiber in all those foods! Another interesting thing about greens (as well as beans) is that they stimulate the production of endothelial “progenitor cells” – the cells that remake a damaged endothelium. So there are multiple mechanisms by which these foods benefit your blood vessels and circulation. So, it’s really no wonder that our participants notice increase in energy …. look at all the foods that increase NO when you switch to a plant based lifestyle!
Kale is easy to chop and add to any soup or stew or stir fry,
for extra flavor and more Nitric Oxide!
NO can also be made by the endothelial cells. “Anoint your kale with balsamic vinegar” recommends Dr. Esselstyn. Why? It turns out acetic acid (aka vinegar) boosts the body’s nitric oxide synthase, the enzyme which converts L – arginine into NO… which is the pathway for NO production by the endothelial cells. Researcher Sakakibara showed in a randomized controlled trial that vinegar intake enhances flow-mediated vasodilatation by increasing endothelial nitric oxide synthase activity’(3) Try the 3:2:1 recipe with balsamic vinegar on your greens Read this blog for great ideas on including kale
Breathing through your nose is also important in NO production! Sinus epithelial cells also contain nitric oxide synthase, just as endothelial cells do. Breathing in through your nose activates mechanoreceptors on the epithelial cells to generate NO. In his book Breath, James Nestor notes that nasal breathing alone can boost circulating nitric oxide sixfold!
And now for one of my favorite parts of NO physiology! Nestor also notes that humming increases the release of nitric oxide in the nasal passages 15- fold! (5) What an effective and simple method to increase your NO, widen your capillaries and increase oxygenation! All you have to do is breath normally through your nose, and hum a favorite tune, or just a sound; try it while tied up in traffic, anytime you’re washing your hands, or in the shower!! It’s interesting to speculate that this likely contributes to the wellbeing of Buddhist monks as they chant “Om”.
So, when our participants note “I’m full of energy” and “I can exercise longer, my recovery from running is quicker”, they likely are feeling the Nitric Oxide bloom and happy endothelium from all the beans, greens and other wonderful plants they’re now eating. And the improved blood flow to all your organ systems has many more benefits in creating health. Also whole food plant based eating adds the extra benefit of all those antioxidants that prevent and decrease inflammation, so aches from exercise and recovery time are much improved! Read the “full of energy” testimonials from our recent Virtual Adventure
“Characterization of the Role of Nitric Oxide and its Clinical Applications” Levine A.B. et al, Cardiology 2012;122:55-68
“Cardiovascular Risk of Proton Pump Inhibitors” H. Ariel, J. Cooke
Syoji Sakakibara, et al Biosci Biotechnol Biochem 2010;74(5):1055-61. ‘Vinegar intake enhances flow-mediated vasodilatation via upregulation of endothelial nitric oxide synthase activity’
Nestor, James Breath The New Science of a Lost Art Riverhead Books, NY 2020 pp 50-51