Nitrates lower blood pressure

Nitrate as an antihypertensive agent

Few food components have had such an eventful history as nitrate and nitrite. Before they fell into disrepute as pollutants due to overfertilization, they were considered important drugs around the world.

In Edinburgh, Scotland, it was noticed as early as 1860 that inhaling amyl nitrite relieved the pain of coronary artery disease (angina pectoris). Since the active ingredient was volatile and therefore difficult to administer, it was later replaced by nitroglycerin (glycerol nitrate). Propyl, ethyl and isobutyl nitrite were also considered alternatives. Half a century ago, nitroglycerin was one of the most important antihypertensive agents and was also very popular with homeopaths.

In traditional Chinese medicine, preference was given to using saltpeter (potassium nitrate), which heart patients placed under their tongue and swallowed piece by piece. Here, too, the actual active ingredient is likely to have been nitrite, which was created from nitrate through the action of the oral flora.

In Europe, saltpetre has been used for skin diseases, inhaled to treat asthma, and prescribed for tissue retention. In the USA, the more effective dehydrating agent ammonium nitrate was used. Inorganic nitrates were not replaced by organic dehydrating agents until the mid-1930s. Another application has continued to this day in numerous countries: the administration of nitrite for acute hydrocyanic acid poisoning. In the last few decades, nitrite has also proven to be an effective antidote for poisoning with hydrogen sulfide.

It is now known that the human body produces nitrite itself - mainly from the nitrate in food. The nitrite is used to obtain nitrogen oxides, with which blood pressure, immune function, wound healing and the nervous system are controlled. Nitrogen oxides not only relax the smooth muscles of the blood vessels, but also have an antibacterial effect. For example, they inhibit the growth of microorganisms in the stomach and kill pathogens such as Salmonella, Helicobacter pylori and EHEC - an effect that does not occur with stomach acid alone.

Since the nitrite is even effective against antibiotic-resistant pseudomonads under favorable conditions, it has meanwhile been proposed as a remedy for chronic lung infections in patients with cystic fibrosis (cystic fibrosis). Its testing in skin diseases also appears promising, especially since the nitrite in the sweat protects the skin from bacteria. Antibiotic effects have already been demonstrated against the acne pathogen (Propionibacterium acnes) and the cause of boils (Staphylococcus aureus).

The fact that nitrate and nitrite only play a subordinate role in medicine today is less due to the fact that they were assigned maximum quantities in foods such as salad or drinking water. Rather, the pharmaceutical industry seems to be of little interest because it is difficult to patent simple inorganic compounds. On top of that, the fabrics are cheap and freely available. Perhaps the nutritionists will get a taste for it instead: Because nitrate, as is well known, lowers blood pressure and prevents the accumulation of blood platelets, there is now speculation about its possible health benefits in the context of the Mediterranean diet.

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