A new study conducted by Jonathan Stamler, a professor of medicine at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, OH, and colleagues has shown that the respiratory cycle involves three gases and not just two. He says their findings will transform our understanding of the respiratory cycle and could save lives as it will alter our treatments of various associated diseases linked to the respiratory system and also affect blood banks.
The current understanding is that the respiratory cycle uses blood to transport two gases – oxygen and carbon dioxide. Red blood cells pick up freshly inhaled oxygen from the lungs and carry it to cells in the tissues of the body; and then they bring back carbon dioxide as a waste product to be exhaled from the lungs.
However their study has proven that without the presence of Nitric Oxide it doesn’t matter how high the oxygen level is, the cells cannot accept the oxygen without it. The researchers show how nitric oxide controls the blood flow in small blood vessels inside tissue in a process known as “blood flow auto regulation.” It is the Nitric Oxide that controls the release of oxygen from red blood cells into the tissues that need it. Haemaglobin in the Red Blood Cells needs to be also carrying Nitric Oxide to enable blood vessels to open and to supply the oxygen it is carrying to the tissues.
Prof Stamler says “Within the tissues, the tiny vessels and the red blood cells together make up the critical entity controlling blood flow. Red blood cell dysfunction is likely a hidden contributor to diseases of the heart, lung and blood such as heart attack, heart failure, stroke and ischemic injury to kidneys.”
If you suffer from a condition where there is a lack of oxygen uptake to your cells, it may not be the answer just to increase the oxygen supply, but to also look at whether your Red Blood Cells are functioning correctly and if there is an adequate Nitric Oxide supply. Then if necessary treat the Red Blood Cell problem in conjunction with oxygen therapy.
The study also has implications for blood transfusions. Recent evidence shows that blood transfusions lacking nitric oxide have been linked to higher risk of heart attacks, disease and death. It’s not enough to just increase oxygen content of the blood via a blood transfusion. If the Nitric Oxide mechanism is failing then the oxygen will not be able to make it to its destination. Blood in blood banks are known to be deficient in Nitric Oxide and transfusing this blood may actually make things worse by plugging up blood vessels in tissues and to solve this the nation’s blood should be replenished with Nitric Oxide.
It may be the case that many sufferers on oxygen therapy in the future could be helped and treated even more by investigating their Nitric Oxide levels, as there could be additional failings in their respiratory system that could be investigated and more successfully treated.