Not Quite Laughing Gas… Chinese Herbs Produce Nitric Oxide, Benefits Heart
Extry! Extry! Read all about it!
Chinese Herbs prove to help the body produce nitric oxide! (NO)
NO? Wait a minute, isn’t that laughing gas?
Not quite. Laughing gas is NITROUS oxide. This is nitric oxide.
Anyway, scientists at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston will be publishing an article in the paper Free Radical Biology and Medicine entitled “Nitric Oxide Bioactivity of Traditional Chinese Medicines Used for Cardiovascular Indications”
In plain English that means “We’ve studied how traditional heart benefiting herbs produce NO. Looks like ancient tradition is proved by science yet again, despite attempts of skeptics to hide the fact.”
(Interestingly, when I read the news article on personalliberty.com, I thought it looked familiar… turns out similar news articles have been out since August…)
What’s the big deal about nitric oxide? A quick Wikipedia scan reveals:
NO is an important messenger molecule involved in many physiological and pathological processes within the mammalian body both beneficial and detrimental. Appropriate levels of NO production are important in protecting an organ such as the liver from ischemic damage. However sustained levels of NO production result in direct tissue toxicity and contribute to the vascular collapse associated with septic shock, whereas chronic expression of NO is associated with various carcinomas and inflammatory conditions including juvenile diabetes, multiple sclerosis, arthritis and ulcerative colitis.
Nitric oxide should not be confused with nitrous oxide (N2O), a general anaesthetic and greenhouse gas, or with nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which is another air pollutant. The nitric oxide molecule is a free radical, which is relevant to understanding its high reactivity.
Despite being a simple molecule, NO is a fundamental player in the fields of neuroscience, physiology, and immunology, and was proclaimed “Molecule of the Year” in 1992.
Oooookay, so like any other substance, it’s got it’s good and bad points. Let’s look at more. I’ll highlight the good stuff:
NO is one of the few gaseous signaling molecules known. It is a key vertebrate biological messenger, playing a role in a variety of biological processes. Nitric oxide, known as the ‘endothelium-derived relaxing factor‘, or ‘EDRF’, is biosynthesised endogenously from arginine and oxygen by various nitric oxide synthase (NOS) enzymes and by reduction of inorganic nitrate. The endothelium (inner lining) of blood vessels use nitric oxide to signal the surrounding smooth muscle to relax, thus resulting in vasodilation and increasing blood flow. Nitric oxide is highly reactive (having a lifetime of a few seconds), yet diffuses freely across membranes. These attributes make nitric oxide ideal for a transient paracrine (between adjacent cells) and autocrine (within a single cell) signaling molecule. The production of nitric oxide is elevated in populations living at high-altitudes, which helps these people avoid hypoxia by aiding in pulmonary vasculature vasodilation. Effects include vasodilatation, neurotransmission (see Gasotransmitters), modulation of the hair cycle, production of reactive nitrogen intermediates and penile erections (through its ability to vasodilate). Nitroglycerin and amyl nitrite serve as vasodilators because they are converted to nitric oxide in the body. Sildenafil, popularly known by the trade name Viagra, stimulates erections primarily by enhancing signaling through the nitric oxide pathway in the penis.
Whoah, whoah WHOAH! Penile erections? I should emphasize that in the tags! Get me more hits!
Seriously though, I can see how NO helps the heart – by promoting vasodilation and decreasing blood pressure (I presume). So what happens when we don’t get enough of nitric oxide?
Nitric oxide (NO) contributes to vessel homeostasis by inhibiting vascular smooth muscle contraction and growth, platelet aggregation, and leukocyte adhesion to the endothelium. Humans with atherosclerosis, diabetes, or hypertension often show impaired NO pathways. A high-salt intake was demonstrated to attenuate NO production, although bioavailability remains unregulated.
Again, in plain English, people with heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure don’t have enough of the stuff. Of course, one can have TOO MUCH of the stuff too and that’s… bad. Feel free to browse the entire wiki article. Oh I love wikipedia.
Back to the personalliberty.com article: I checked to see the actual abstract of the study and here is an excerpt:
We tested a group of convenience samples of TCMs obtained here in the U.S. for endogenous nitrite, nitrate, nitroso, nitrite reductase activity as well as their ability to relax isolated aortic rings. The results from this study reveal that all of the TCMs tested reveal NO bioactivity through their inherent nitrite and nitrate content and their ability to reduce nitrite to NO. Many of the TCM extracts contain a nitrite reductase activity greater by 1000 times than that of biological tissues. Repletion of biological nitrite and nitrate by these extracts and providing a natural system for NO generation in both endothelium dependent and independent mechanisms may account for some of the therapeutic effects of TCMs.
Wowzers! Scientific proof on how Chinese medicine works! Who would have thought?!!?
And now finally, the article that inspired this blog post, in it’s entirety:
New research has uncovered the scientific basis of ancient Chinese herbal formulas that have been shown to improve cardiovascular health.
Based on their work, researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston believe the formulas help prevent heart disease by producing large amounts of nitric oxide, which is known for its artery-widening properties that facilitate blood flow and circulation.
The compound also lowers pressure and reduces the formation of artery-clogging plaque that may cause blood clots, the scientists explain.
Dr. Nathan S. Bryan, the study’s senior author and assistant professor in the university’s Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Diseases, explains that “[these herbal formulas] have profound nitric oxide bioactivity primarily through the enhancement of nitric oxide in the inner walls of blood vessels, but also through their ability to convert nitrite and nitrate into nitric oxide.”
Herbal medicines, along with massages and acupuncture, have formed the basis of traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, contributing to the treatment of cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Oh and I checked some of the August articles. They named dan shen and gua lou as some of the herbs they used. Bought from a Houston store… perhaps with the help of Yao Ming?
I must emphasize once again that one can have too much of a good thing. Chinese herbs and other medications, whether alternative or conventional, must be prescribed by a qualified practitioner.
Cahill, Robert. “Scientists help explain effects of ancient Chinese herbal formulas on heart health” Eurekalert.org 18 August 2009. 13 October 2009 <http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-08/uoth-she081809.php>
No author listed. Wikipedia.com.13 October 2009 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitric_oxide>
Personal Liberty News Desk. Personalliberty.com 12 October 2009. 13 October 2009 <http://www.personalliberty.com/news/scientists-explain-beneficial-effects-of-ancient-chinese-heart-medicines-19396254/>
Tang, Garg, Geng, Bryan et al. “Nitric Oxide Bioactivity of Traditional Chinese Medicines Used for Cardiovascular Indications” Free radical biology & medicine. 01/07/2009 as shown in researchgate.net. 13 October 2009 <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/26310210_Nitric_Oxide_Bioactivity_of_Traditional_Chinese_Medicines_Used_for_Cardiovascular_Indications>