Nitrates from Plants, As Essential A Vitamins

April 01, 2024

Plant Nitrates from Vegetables, As Essential As Vitamins

Life probably couldn't have started without lightning. You see, lightning creates the energy to break the nitrogen bonds of atmospheric nitrogen and make nitric oxide. That step introduces nitrogen into the food chain and starts the production of amino acids and DNA. Now, we have the ingredients for life. That nitrogen is precious. One of the key ingredients from lightning was NO, nitric oxide that is very reactive and can go in multiple directions.

That same role is now played by dietary nitrates from vegetables. It takes a circuitous route to get back to NO. Nitrates from vegetables are concentrated in your saliva, and then a particular, unique biome of bacteria in the crypts of your tongue convert the nitrates to nitrites. Upon swallowing, those nitrites are converted to NO in the stomach, which affects the whole body.

There are two, critical choke points in that process. Salivary conversion of nitrates to nitrites is erased with mouthwash of any kind. That's number one. Drugs that neutralize stomach acid block the final conversion to NO. That's number 2. Both stop the production of NO, almost completely.

NO, once made, turns on an enzyme called soluble guanylate cyclase or just chemically alters many proteins to generate all sorts of endocrine effectors. Those effects are life-giving. Oxygen can penetrate tissues. White cells can kill viruses. Blood can flood smoothly through responsive blood vessels. NO is the real deal. And it drops by 12% per decade. Add that up and if you are over 60, you are deficient.

Under conditions of exacerbated physiological stress such as chronic inflammation, the enzyme responsible for endogenous NO production in endothelial cells, endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS), may generate reactive oxygen species thus decreasing NO production. This change in enzymology is termed eNOS uncoupling. That explains the missing link between chronic inflammation and how it plays out in making us worse off. Sick!

Just about every known disease is associated with low NO. For example, studies have reported a decrease in whole-body NO synthesis rate of 31% with high blood pressure, 61% in renal failure, 73% in heart failure, and 40% with hypertension. The list goes on. That's the science that's being filled in now. Studying NO is so complex because it is so fleeting and nuanced in its effect, that no one fully grasped the scope of its importance. Well, important it is.

We get nitrates from our food. Only. We can make some NO from animal products but that process is pretty unwieldy and the best evidence we have is that most NO comes from the plants we eat. Clearly, prepared meats have measurable, harmful effects on human health, but the nitrates themselves may be beneficial. All that fuming about the nitrates in ham is misplaced. However, you can't put in the nitrates without making other secondary products. They are the problem.

The conundrum comes with too much nitrate intake, as shown in cardiovascular disease. A U-shaped curve of benefit shows up that demonstrates "tolerance" or adaptation to high doses that erases the benefit. Something is amiss. Like the three bears, you want your porridge "just right". Same for NO. Not too little. Not too much. And vegetables provide that. The convoluted, complex pathway through our saliva and gut is fragile.

There is clear evidence that the natural nitrates in vegetables have a demonstrable beneficial effect on cardiovascular health. It's the nitrates that do it, at the level vegetables provide when eaten. And irony upon irony, organic vegetables have dramatically fewer nitrates in them. That's what fertilizer is. Our depleted soils are so lacking in nitrogen, we are now dependent on the addition of artificial nitrogen. Lightning just isn't keeping up.

And that's how we get to the call for nitrates in vegetables to be considered a conditional, "essential" nutrient, almost a vitamin.

www.What will Work for me? My take-away. If you are over 60, you likely need to be on some sort of program of nitrate enhancement, in addition to 5 servings of vegetables a day. The path to healing cardiovascular disease, our number one killer in men and women, is founded on sufficient NO in our arteries. No questions asked. Nobel Prize for that one. My cardiac calcium score is not zero. I'm taking NO lozenges every day. It's my only "candy". Nice, lemony flavor. I just baked 3 packages of Brussels sprouts with lots of black pepper and a tract of paprika and olive oil. I've ditched the mouthwash and I'm flossing with grim determination. The average American eats 1/2 serving per day of vegetables, only if you count french fries as a vegetable. Buck that trend.

References: Science Direct, Cell, J Animal Sci Tech,

Pop Quiz

1. What is the original source of nitrates?                                Answer: Lightning. 

2. Where do we get most of our modern nitrates from?                        Answer: Artificially making nitrogen-based fertilizers. Then through plants.

3. How much does NO production decrease per decade?                       Answer: 12%

4. What are the odds I die of heart disease?                            Answer: 50%.


5. Hmmm. Las Vegas odds for NO versus heart disease?                           Answer: Don't be a sucker. You need the NO. I know it's expensive. Death is worse. And more certain.