March 5, 2009

A little nitrite can benefit the heart

A Boston University School of Medicine study suggests short bursts of nitrites can be beneficial in protecting the heart from stress.

The study, researchers said, demonstrated for the first time that short elevations in circulating levels of nitrites are sufficient to have a lasting impact on the heart by modulating its oxidation status and its protein machinery.

Nitrite is an oxidation product of the short-lived cell signaling molecule nitric oxide and, until recently, was thought to be biologically inert at the relatively low levels found in the body.

The suspicion that high levels of nitrite and nitrate may cause cancer, as well as concerns about their risk to compromise the ability of red blood cells to deliver oxygen to tissues, have led to strict regulations aimed at limiting exposure to the substances through drinking water and food products, the researchers said.

What we found was that a single brief nitrite treatment elicited persisting changes in the heart's oxidation status together with lasting alterations to numerous proteins involved in the heart's energy metabolism, redox regulation, and signaling, said David Perlman, a post-doctoral research associate and lead author of the study.

The findings are detailed in the journal Circulation Research.