The Amazing Path From Your Mouth To Your Heart
The 1998 Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to 3 researchers who identified that Nitric Oxide (NO) is a gas produced by arteries to promote health. The more NO is manufactured, the lower the blood pressure and the cleaner are our arteries. A pathway that involves our mouth has recently been identified that can be used to boost NO production and may help you maintain your health.
The New Mouth Heart System
What is this new mouth-heart system? First a few facts. Plant foods like spinach and beets capture nitrogen from the soil and store them as nitrates. Chewing nitrate rich plant foods allows a reaction in the grooves of our tongue rich in healthy bacteria leading to the conversion to nitrites. These are swallowed, absorbed, and enter our arteries to produce NO. Now you know why all that spinach Popeye ate made him so healthy.
How to Cook Broccoli
There is another reaction from chewing vegetables that begins in our mouth and leads to improved health. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale and cauliflower contain a chemical, (glucophoranin) and an enzyme (myrosinase). These are kept apart from each other in the cells of the vegetable until we begin chewing on these healthy foods. When we break apart the cells in our mouths by chewing, we initiate a chemical reaction that produces sulforaphane. This is a powerhouse chemical that hass been shown to prevent cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
When you cook cruciferous vegetables, most of the enzyme is destroyed by the heat. A practical solution is to chop these vegetables and then let them sit half an hour or so before cooking. This imitates what happens in our mouths while chewing and the reaction will still occur.
Can Mouthwash Use Matter?
If chewing green vegetables like spinach and broccoli can trigger these chemical reactions that lead to improved health, is there anything we might be doing to our dental health that may be blocking these benefits? Yes. If you are using an antiseptic mouthwash known to destroy the mouths' bacteria, you may be interfering with the production of NO. After one week of using such a mouthwash nitrite levels in the blood fell and blood pressure rose 2-3 mmHg. This is a concerning result from something as simple as using mouthwash and may be harmful long term.
What are the take-home messages you can use to benefit from the mouth-heart connections? These include 1) Chew your vegetables slowly and thoroughly, perhaps 20 or more times, consciously appreciating that you are improving your health and activating reactions that make you healthy 2) Avoid antiseptic mouthwashes unless prescribed short term for an infection 3) Try juicing vegetables to capture huge amounts of plant-based nutrition! Remember to “chew” your juice before swallowing and eat whole foods too 4) When making a smoothie with green vegetables such as kale or spinach, consider making what I call a “chewie” with fairly large pieces of the ground greens. This will require some chewing before swallowing. Just run your blender for less time to produce these larger shredded pieces.