NITRATES/ NITRITES: Effects on our Health in 10 min!

You find in this Youtube video and in this health, wellness blog post:

- Nitrates and nitrites, what are they?

- Where are nitrates and nitrites found?

- Why do nitrates pollute water?

- Where are nitrates in our food?

- Food additives that contain nitrates and nitrites

- The effects of nitrates and nitrites on our health

- How to reduce your consumption of nitrates and nitrites

Nitrates and nitrites are compounds that are given a lot of attention because of their potential toxicity at a certain dose.

What are nitrates and nitrites?

Nitrates and nitrites are ions.

An ion is an atom or a molecule that has gained or lost one or more electrons.

Electrons are negative charges that gravitate around the nucleus of the atom, they allow the bonding between different atoms to form molecules.

Nitrates are composed of a nitrogen atom (chemical symbol N) and 3 oxygen atoms (chemical symbol O), they are noted NO3-.

Nitrites are composed of one nitrogen atom and 2 oxygen atoms, they are noted NO2-.

Nitrates and nitrites have a free electron, i.e. not paired with another electron, so they are very unstable and reactive. The only thing they want is to bond to another atom to become stable.

Where are nitrates and nitrites found?

Nitrates are mainly found in water where they are very soluble, these compounds are a real source of water pollution.

They come from substances used in fertilizers for plant growth.

As the plants do not consume all the fertilizers that are propelled to them, a part of these substances are found in the water tables (underground), rivers and seas through the rain.

This is how we can observe nitrates in water.

Agriculture is not the only one responsible for water pollution by nitrates, industry, road transport and domestic waste are also involved.

Why do nitrates pollute water?

Nitrates are a source of pollution because when they enter the body, they are transformed into nitrites. These have a real toxicity our body.

Where are nitrates found in our food?

Nitrates can be combined with potassium or sodium ions to produce saltpetre, which is used in the food industry as a colouring agent and/or preservative. It gives a reddish pink color to sausages, it is also used in the food industry for the preservation of meat and fish or cheese.

Additives that contain nitrates and nitrites

Preservatives with nitrites are noted E249, E250.

Food additives containing nitrates are noted E251, E252;

Organic products may also contain nitrates or nitrites, but in smaller quantities.

Products without nitrates and nitrites also exist, it is possible to spot them by reading the labels and by observing the aspect of the meat which is less colored (paler).

The effects of nitrates and nitrites on our health and the environment

Nitrates promote the multiplication of bacteria that are harmful to the aquatic environment.

Nitrates come to our body through the ingestion of water, but also through fruits and vegetables. Tap water is generally richer in nitrates than mineral water and spring water.

Our body also produces these substances in the stomach.

Nitrates are transformed into nitrites in the mouth by saliva and various bacteria. Nitrites are very toxic, because they cause methemoglobinemia, which is the transformation of hemoglobin (a protein found in red blood cells that carries oxygen through the blood) into methemoglobin.

Hemoglobin is composed of an iron atom that is in the ferrous form (Fe2+), i.e. it has the ability to bind to an oxygen molecule.

Under the influence of nitrites, the iron atom within hemoglobin changes its chemical state to another form called ferric (Fe3+). This new molecule is called methemoglobin. In this state, the iron can no longer capture oxygen, and the supply of oxygen to the various cells of the body is therefore reduced. The skin becomes blue, it is the cyanosis.

Then the lack of oxygen causes asphyxia and death.

Infants are the most vulnerable because their stomachs are less acidic and they do not have a great capacity to regenerate their hemoglobin.

Nitrites can also bind to other molecules such as amino acids that are constituents of proteins to form nitrosamines. These disturbances may promote the development of stomach and colorectal cancer.

If consumed regularly over the long term, nitrites can cause nausea, shortness of breath, headache and dizziness,

How to reduce your nitrate and nitrite intake

To reduce your consumption of nitrites and nitrates, it is important to read carefully the labels of water, drinks, delicatessen, ...

to choose mineral water, to limit industrial food, to have a varied diet. Some vegetables like celery, turnip, salads, beet and beans contain more nitrates than others.

It is interesting to know that vitamin C reduces the formation of nitrosamines, which is why it is sometimes added to industrial foods.

Dr Noura Marrai (Doctor of Pharmacy, YouTuber Health, creator of the health well-being Pharmaquiz application),

Pharmaquiz YouTube channel:

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