Pharmacological research 2017 06 10122() 127-129 pii 10.1016/j.phrs.2017.06.006
Nitrate (NO3(-))-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables are not only part of a healthy diet, but increasingly marketed for primary prevention of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and used as ergogenic aids by competitive athletes. While there is abundant evidence for mild hypotensive effects of nitrate on acute application there is limited data on chronic intake in humans, and results from animal studies suggest no long-term benefit. This is important as nitrate can also promote the formation of nitrosamines. It is therefore classified as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’, although a beneficial effect on CVD risk might compensate for an increased cancer risk. Dietary nitrate requires reduction to nitrite (NO2(-)) by oral commensal bacteria to contribute to the formation of nitric oxide (NO). The extensive crosstalk between NO and hydrogen sulfide (H2S) related metabolites may further affect nitrate’s bioactivity. Using nitrate and nitrite concentrations of drinking water – the only dietary source continuously monitored for which detailed data exist – in conjunction with data of >14,000 participants of the EPIC-Norfolk study, we found no inverse associations with blood pressure or CVD risk. Instead, we found a strong interaction with sulfate (SO4(2-)). At low sulfate concentrations, nitrate was inversely associated with BP (-4mmHg in top quintile) whereas this was reversed at higher concentrations (+3mmHg in top quintile). Our findings have a potentially significant impact for pharmacology, physiology and public health, redirecting our attention from the oral microbiome and mouthwash use to interaction with sulfur-containing dietary constituents. These results also indicate that nitrate bioactivation is more complex than hitherto assumed. The modulation of nitrate bioactivity by sulfate may render dietary lifestyle interventions aimed at increasing nitrate intake ineffective and even reverse potential antihypertensive effects, warranting further investigation.