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As we head into cold, flu and COVID season, most of us have a lot of questions. After a couple of years of dealing with COVID-19, it feels like we might have our heads above water.
But William Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and associate director for the School’s Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, in an interview with the Harvard Gazzette earlier this fall, said COVID has killed more than 100,000 Americans this year already.
And that, he says, is twice what would be considered a bad flu year.
The good news, though, is that for those hardest hit, an effective treatment has come to the forefront…
Widening blood vessels and reducing viral load
Patients with respiratory failure due to COVID-19 pneumonia often experience critically low oxygen levels, which presents a real and present danger in both the short and long term.
In the short term, this oxygen deprivation starves the organs and increases risk of death. And in the long-term patients who survive the initial onslaught can experience sensory and motor neurological problems, like weakness and pain in the arms and legs.
Now, a treatment that is used to treat severe cardio-pulmonary conditions in newborns and adults is showing real promise in reversing oxygen deprivation even in the most critically ill patients and reducing the risk of long-term suffering.
The treatment used is known as inhaled nitric oxide gas, which widens blood vessels in the lungs.
And a recent multicenter international phase II clinical trial led by investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the University of Alabama in Birmingham (UAB) is proving it may change COVID-19 treatment for the better…
Investigators randomized 193 adults with COVID-19 and respiratory failure who were on ventilators at four hospitals in the United States and one in Sweden to receive high-dose nitric oxide (up to 80 parts per million) for 48 hours or usual care.
And it was clear that patients given nitric oxide fared much better…
The results showed that treatment with nitric oxide not only improved oxygenation, it also reduced the risk of patients developing long-term sensory and motor neurologic symptoms.
If that weren’t enough, patients given nitric oxide also had lower levels of SARS-CoV-2 in their blood and sputum, which the researchers say points to the anti-viral power of nitric oxide.
And unlike so many other care options, inhaled nitric oxide was not linked to any serious adverse events.
It’s worth noting that nitric oxide was also found beneficial for treating another coronavirus in 2004. You may remember Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, also known as SARS, which originated in southwest China in 2002. That research was the reason that some frontline doctors turned to it without question at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The history of nitric oxide
So what is nitric oxide and why is it so powerful?
Those answers were found in the Nobel Prize-winning work of three pharmacologists…
Fred Murad, Robert Furchgott and Louis Ignarro found this incredible vasodilator molecule in the endothelial lining of the blood vessels. They discovered that nitric oxide works as a signaling molecule, capable of telling the blood vessels to relax, which allows for healthy blood flow and oxygenation throughout the body — to all organs, including the lungs.
That’s why nitric oxide has been shown to help in the case of numerous health conditions, including:
- cardiometabolic syndrome
- support for brain health
- healing diabetic foot ulcers
- reducing erectile dysfunction
- bringing long-term blood sugar down
Because of its effects on blood flow and oxygenation, nitric oxide can even help increase endurance making it vital for athletes and non-athletes alike.
All of this, along with the latest success in COVID-19 treatment, means that nitric oxide might just be one of the most important health discoveries of our century.
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