What are endothelial cells and what do they have to do with dancing all night long? Moving with strength, grace and vigor for an extended period of time begins with your endothelial cells.
Endothelial cells live on the inner surface of your blood vessels where they create a gas called nitric oxide. This gas is basically a chemical command that says, “Relax!” to the smooth muscles surrounding your blood vessels (all your blood vessels have tiny muscles embedded in their walls). When the smooth muscles receive the command to relax they, like a fist opening, allow the blood vessels to expand wider, letting more blood flow through. More blood means more oxygen for your muscles, especially when you’re doing things like climbing stairs, playing tennis, or dancing the night away. The key to all these vigorous activities is generous amounts of nitric oxide.
To make nitric oxide, your endothelial cells need arginine, a protein manufactured within your body and found in most common foods. Whether eaten or manufactured, arginine enters your endothelial cells, where it is converted into nitric oxide. But the story does not end here. There is an impostor lurking in your blood called asymmetric dimethylarginine, or ADMA for short.
ADMA is a naturally occurring waste product that can cause problems. How? From your endothelial cells’ point of view, ADMA looks like arginine. In fact, ADMA not only looks like arginine, it’s actually more attractive to your endothelial cells than arginine itself! As a consequence, arginine is often supplanted by ADMA, which may enter the endothelial cell, but much like you cannot squeeze blood from a turnip, no nitric oxide can be made from ADMA. If this happens too often, you simply won’t have enough nitric oxide to command the blood vessels to relax, which means not enough oxygen for your muscles and definitely no energy for dancing.
To prevent this from happening, your body creates a protective molecule called Dimethylargininase, DDAH for short, which destroys ADMA. ADMA’s numbers are kept low when you have enough DDAH. This system generally works well but it has a weakness: DDAH is vulnerable to the attacks of free radicals, which are like tiny magnets in your body that float along until they bump against other molecules and viciously tear them apart. Fortunately, you have molecules designed to be safely torn apart called anti-oxidants. These are plentiful when you eat fresh fruits and vegetables, like blueberries and broccoli.
Some familiar advice might go like this: eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. This gives your free radicals lots of anti-oxidants to tear apart, instead of tearing apart your DDAH. By saving your DDAH, ADMA is culled. With ADMA kept under control, adequate amounts of arginine reaches your endothelial cells where it’s transformed into nitric oxide. Nitric oxide, in turn, commands the smooth muscles around your blood vessels to relax, allowing more blood flow. With increased blood flow more oxygen is delivered to your muscles and when you have well oxygenated muscles, you have the energy to dance all night long.