Say 'Yes' to No

Most of us want to live long, healthy lives. We often feel, however, that we are at the mercy of our genes when it comes to health and longevity. Although it is a foregone conclusion that our inheritance plays a significant role in terms of our well being, fortunately we are much more in control of our health than previously thought. Modern science has shown us that with an emphasis on lifestyle, we can indeed increase the length of our years and the quality of our lives. We actually can control the rate at which we age and address the root cause to staying younger longer. A simple molecule known as NO can play a crucial role in keeping us healthy and in promoting longevity!

In 1998, the Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded for research based on the health benefits of nitric oxide, a compound that occurs naturally in the body. Nitric oxide, known as NO, is an important cellular messenger that signals a variety of responses that have proven beneficial to the cardiovascular system, immune system and nervous system. In fact, NO influences every cell and organ.

All production of nitric oxide in the body comes from its direct precursor the amino acid L-arginine. Amino acids are the end product breakdown of protein digestion. The body usually synthesizes sufficient amounts, but in conditions of physical stress, illness or trauma, supplementation may be necessary to meet the body's increased demands. Scientists have studied the remarkable properties of L-arginine in more than 60,000 clinical studies.

Nitric oxide mediates many regulatory tasks in the cells. Identified originally as a vasodilator, NO regulates blood flow to tissues. In the cardiovascular system, NO controls blood pressure and helps prevent the formation of blood clots, known as thrombi, which can obstruct blood vessels. As we age, the body produces less NO and our arteries lose its protective effect. Atherosclerotic plaque can accumulate on the arterial wall to the point where blood flow is compromised or blocked completely.

Since NO is a gas, it can penetrate membranes and send biological messages throughout the cells. NO not only slows the accumulation of atherosclerotic plaque in arteries, it decreases cardiac workload by dilating veins as well. This allows the heart to work more efficiently because there is less blood returned to the heart per cycle and this lessens the amount of volume the heart has to pump. Its ability to combat atherosclerotic plaque helps lower cholesterol naturally.

NO is also a signal molecule to the nervous system and brain NO has been shown to be helpful with people suffering with vascular dementia because like stroke, vascular dementia originates in the small blood vessels of the brain. As blood flow is reduced, there is a decline in mental function. Vascular dementia is often associated with other aspects of coronary artery disease like high blood pressure. Improvement in memory is also associated with good vascular health. When brains run in low gear, it is often a matter of blood flow and arterial health.

NO plays a major role in immune system health White cells produce NO when the body is threatened by invading organisms. NO becomes toxic to the bacteria, viruses and parasites that can harm us. It has been found to curtail certain types of cancer cells. NO is important to wound healing and to promoting pulmonary dilation when treating hypertension in infants Studies have shown it is involved in the release of growth hormones. Its ability to help establish normal blood flow led to the development of the drug Viagra.

How can one molecule be responsible for so many health benefits? The answer lies in the fact that all health is on a cellular level. Of the many components of the cell, the mitochondria are responsible for energy production. They are the furnaces that light the fire. There is no life without mitochondrial energy. NO stimulates the release of oxygen from hemoglobin, essential to energy production in the mitochondria. Any slowdown in energy production leads to disease and eventually death.

Metabolism is the process that allows the cells to produce energy. Often referred to as the wellsprings of life, mitochondria account for an astonishing 10 percent of body weight. It is the heart, brain and muscles, our most metabolically active organs and tissues, which contain the greatest abundance of mitochondria. The more mitochondria we have the better because they allow us to be more energy efficient. Mitochondria are good to us. They are responsible for supplying 95% of our energy needs. They help the cells deal with oxidative stress and contribute to metabolic fitness.

Mitochondrial biogenesis is the process by which the body creates new mitochondria inside the cell. On one hand, mitochondrial biogenesis can delay the aging process. On the other hand, cellular damage and stress add to the aging process and age related declines. The interrelationship of decreased physical abilities, loss in appearance and an increase in body fat are all associated with mitochondrial aging. Loss of lean muscle mass and a greater preponderance to disease states are part of mitochondrial decline.

We now know that the brain is our most metabolically active organ and extremely susceptible to free radical and oxidative stress. Scientists have shown that the brain cells of Parkinson's patients are not capable of producing adequate energy for normal activity. Free radicals attack and injure the mitochondria. Alzheimer's patients also show reduced activity in the mitochondria and high levels of oxidative damage. Scientists are presently studying the major role NO may play in the prevention of Alzheimer's disease.

Because NO stimulates biogenesis, it is a front line player in regulating the tasks in the cells that involve the mitochondria. NO not only regulates blood flow to tissues and is part of the energy cycle, its anti-inflammatory properties help in reducing the swelling associated with arthritis. It functions as an aid in the gastrointestinal system because of its ability to stop the development of stomach ulcers by protecting the mucosal lining.

We all want as many mitochondria as we can get! The ability to create and regulate the number of mitochondria in our cells impacts on all types of processes including fat metabolism and aging. Exercise increases the enzyme nitric oxide synthase that is responsible for the production of nitric oxide. Getting on that treadmill does more than burn a few calories. By producing more NO, blood flow to the arteries increases because smooth-muscle cells of the arterial walls dilate and relax. As a result of making more mitochondria through increased exercise and the consumption of L-arginine in food and supplements, we benefit greatly. Larginine is found in shrimp, crab, the white meat of turkey, spinach and sesame seeds.

More efficient energy production helps us to achieve a wide array of beneficial metabolic changes. When we can lower oxygen usage per unit of mitochondria, the result is more efficient use of energy. We increase exercise tolerance and reduce body fat. Body fat is responsible for many inflammatory responses linked to chronic disease. Diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers have been connected to obesity and mitochondrial deficiencies.

It should be noted that as with so many things in life, balance is the key to healthful living. Extremes of exercise have been known to lower NO levels and create an overabundance of free radicals. Too much exercise is just as detrimental to health as too little.

NO is a simple molecule made from one atom of nitrogen and one of oxygen. Yet, its effect on the body is significant and criticaå to health. This mighty molecule" directly impacts on arterial health, acts as a vasodilator, controls blood flow to tissues, regulates the release of oxygen to hemoglobin, controls the supply of oxygen to mitochondria, kills infectious *****