The growth and health of an early pregnancy relies on sufficient nutrient, blood and oxygen delivery to the growing baby. One of the ways that the body naturally promotes pregnancy is by the secretion of a gas called nitric oxide into blood vessel walls. This gas causes blood vessels to dilate or relax and widen their diameter enabling greater volumes of blood, nutrients and oxygen to be delivered. The problem is when there is inflammation or irritants in the surrounding tissues, white blood cells secrete a compound called myeloperoxidase or MPO. MPO diffuses into the cells lining the blood vessels and secretes free radicals that block nitric oxide. This prevents blood vessels from dilating (constriction) and reduces blood flow, oxygen and nutrition delivery to your growing baby. That’s where broccoli and lemon come in.
Scientists Martin Rees and his colleagues have recently conducted some experiments to see how this pattern of disease was occurring in in complex body systems¹. They discovered that two molecules can scavenge the free radicals that block nitric oxide and importantly enable healthy blood vessel dilation. These two molecules were ascorbate and thiocynate. Ascorbate (commonly known as Vitamin C) can be found in citrus fruits, including lemons. Thiocynate is abundant in broccoli and other cabbage family vegetables.
Rees and colleagues work was important because we had previously thought that Vitamin C might actually have the reverse effect and cause blood vessels to constrict². However the deleterious effects of Vitamin C had been demonstrated in a simple system. Martin Rees and colleagues experiment included whole complex physiological systems and more accurately reflects what is likely to really happen in the body.
So in early pregnancy go ahead and satisfy any food cravings but be sure to include some broccoli and lemon in your diet, along with the benefit of good blood flow to your baby, they can actually taste ok ……….. perhaps as ingredients in a savoury muffin or in a Mediterranean dish!
- Rees, M.D., et al., Mechanism and regulation of peroxidase-catalyzed nitric oxide consumption in physiological fluids: Critical protective actions of ascorbate and thiocyanate. Free Radical Biology and Medicine, 2014. 72: p. 91-103.
- Eiserich, J.P., et al., Myeloperoxidase, a leukocyte-derived vascular NO oxidase. Science, 2002. 296(5577): p. 2391-2394.