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Vasodilatation is the expanding of blood vessels, which reduces the blood pressure or force the heart needs to apply to circulate blood throughout the body. Nitric oxide is a strong vasodilator acting directly to relax the lining of the blood vessels. The most effective way to supplement nitric oxide is by eating foods rich in natural vasodilators, including nitrates, flavonoids, and L-arginine. Another natural substance that provides this benefit is 3-n-butylphthalide, which is thought to play a role in controlling the production of prostaglandins, complex fat molecules with many physiological and regulatory roles, one of which is to relax blood vessels.
A strong natural vasodilator is nitrate, found in high concentrations in beets, spinach, and lettuce. After eating these vegetables, the saliva acts to convert the nitrate to nitrite. In the stomach, gastric acid produces nitric oxide from the nitrite. Nitric oxide signals the lining of the blood vessels to relax, and thereby expand or dilate.
Flavonoids acts as a key component in the production of nitric oxide. As a natural dilator, they augment the activity of nitric oxide synthase, an enzyme produced by the cells lining the blood vessels. The nitric oxide synthase is the catalyst in the production of nitric oxide. Flavonoids improve vasodilation by boosting the efficiency of nitric oxide synthase, and thereby increasing the production of nitric oxide. Foods rich in these compounds are spinach, kale, broccoli, dark chocolate, and hawthorn.
L-arginine is an essential amino acid used in the production of nitric oxide. Some research suggests that dietary augmentation of this amino acid may increase the synthesis of nitric oxide. Meats such as fish and chicken, eggs, milk, cheese, and various nuts, such as walnuts, cashews, and almonds, are good sources of L-arginine.
The chemical 3-n-butylphthalide is thought to increase vasodilation by modulating the production of prostaglandins, but the exact method through which this process occurs is not completely understood. Some types of prostaglandins act to dilate peripheral blood vessels, or blood vessels located in the extremities. Increased availability of 3-n-butylphthalide may improve the release of prostaglandins and help dilate these blood vessels. Celery is a good source of this chemical.
Eating a reasonable amount of nitrates, flavonoids, L-arginine, and 3-n-butylphthalide is safe and should not interfere with prescription medication. These natural vasodilators should never be used in place of prescription vasodilators unless such a change is discussed with a medical professional. In some cases, they may help to control minor blood pressure problems or may allow for a reduced dose of a prescription medication.