Hearts like nitrates?

According to a press release on the Albert Einstein College of Medicine website, eating your leafy greens could be life-saving if a heart attack strikes you.

As news goes, that's not all that earth shattering. Nutrition folk are always trying to shove that green crap down our throats. When are they going to decide that we should eat sausage or maybe ribs? Well... the chemicals in the leafy greens that the research team at Albert Einstein College of Medicine found for this heart protection are nitrites and nitrates. This is a bizarre twist 'cause for decades we've been told that nitrates are horrible for our hearts as well as potentially carcinogenic.

"Recent studies show that administering nitrite to animals, either intravenously or orally, can greatly limit the damage caused by a heart attack and the stress to tissue that follows due to reperfusion—the return of blood to oxygen-starved heart muscle," says Dr. David Lefer, the study’s senior author and professor of medicine and of pathology at Einstein. "We wondered if feeding animals much lower levels of nitrite and nitrate—equivalent to what people can readily obtain from their diets—could also provide protection from heart-attack injury." Lefer's findings, published in the November 12 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Online Early Edition, suggest that the chemical nitrite, found in many vegetables, could be the secret ingredient in the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet.

Nitrite and its 'chemical cousin' nitrate are important because of their role in producing nitric oxide gas. In 1986, researchers made the remarkable finding that nitric oxide—famous until then mainly as an air pollutant—is produced by cells lining healthy arteries and plays a crucial role in cardiovascular health by dilating arteries and aiding blood flow. Damage to the artery lining impairs nitric oxide production and leads to cardiovascular disease and, ultimately, to heart attacks and strokes.

Researchers now have good evidence that hearts undergoing heart attacks have a backup pathway for making nitric oxide. Triggered by falling oxygen levels, enzymes in heart muscle convert nitrite stored there into nitric acid that can then help minimize tissue damage. Nitrite in the diet comes mainly from vegetables—celery, beets, and spinach, lettuce and other leafy types. Once consumed, nitrite exits the bloodstream and then accumulates and become stored in organs such as the heart, kidney and brain. But it wasn’t clear whether boosting nitrite in the diet could actually translate into better protection from heart-attack damage.

To find out, the Einstein researchers administered nitrite (50 mg/liter) in the drinking water of mice for seven days, while a comparison group of mice received a standard diet that was not supplemented with nitrite. Then, to simulate a heart attack, blood flow to the animals’ hearts was stopped for 30 minutes, followed by 24 hours of reperfusion. Examination revealed that the hearts of the nitrite-supplemented mice were significantly richer in nitrite, and heart-muscle damage was reduced by an impressive 48 percent compared with the controls. These experiments were then conducted using nitrate with similar results.

In contrast to nitrite, nitrate in the diet comes mainly from cured meats such as bacon, sausage and luncheon meats. Consuming nitrate augments our nitrite supply: Once absorbed in the bloodstream, nitrate circulates to the salivary glands where bacteria convert it to nitrite, which is then swallowed in our saliva. About 10 percent of dietary nitrate is converted to nitrite in this way.

"This new appreciation of the health benefits of nitrite and nitrate is ironic," says Dr. Lefer, "They’ve traditionally been regarded as toxic because they tend to form chemicals called nitrosamines, some of which are carcinogenic. But recent research has found no convincing evidence that nitrite and nitrate pose a cancer risk."

Dr. Lefer notes that Europeans’ copious consumption of vegetables puts them far ahead of us in terms of nitrite and nitrate intake: On average, European consume 76 mg of nitrite and nitrate daily compared with a 0.77 mg American intake—nearly a 100-fold difference. "This large intake of nitrite and nitrate poses no known risks and could certainly help explain why the Mediterranean diet is heart-healthy despite its relatively high fat content," says Dr. Lefer.

"Our study suggests that building up nitrite stores in heart muscle could spell the difference between a mild heart attack and one that causes lasting heart damage or death," says Dr. Lefer. "And since nitrite also accumulate in the brain, they could potentially help minimize the damage from strokes as well."

I love Italian sausage and while health concerns never stopped me from eating it--now I get to have an excuse to eat it a lot. It's good for me! LOL


kenju said…
I love it too - but what about the high fat and sodium content? Does the good stuff in it trump the bad?
SassyAssy said…
You know me & the sci-fi posts of yours....where in the hell does the Italian sausage excuse come from????

If only spinach tasted like chocolate covered cherries...we would not have to worry about your heart so much.

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