The Difference between Nitrites and Nitrates and How They Affect Our Health

The Difference between Nitrites and Nitrates

 To completely understand the relativity of the two compounds, we have to tackle on a little bit about chemistry. The difference between the two chemicals is the oxygen they possess. Nitrates are composed of 3 oxygen atoms with a chemical formula of NO3-, while Nitrites have 2 oxygen atoms that make a chemical formula of NO2-.

Though relatively passive, nitrates turn into nitrites with the help of bacteria and enzymes found in the mouth and body. In addition, the body produces a large amount of nitrates and secretes them in the saliva and into the digestive tract. Nitrates function as an antimicrobial in the digestive system which helps kill bacteria found in the body like salmonella, then back to the saliva. This process is called Entero-Salivary Circulation.

Nitrites are converted and turned into Nitric Oxide which is a good chemical. Furthermore, it can also turn into Nitrosamide which is a bad chemical. Nitrosamide causes certain diseases like cancer when consumed more than the body can take. Nitric oxide helps the body by transmitting arterial cells that relaxes the system.

Nitric oxide controls the cardiac rhythm and helps in lowering down blood pressure. This is done when it dilates the blood vessels which then, relaxes muscle cells. Nitroglycerin, a beta blocker and a derivative of nitric oxide, is just one of the drugs that are responsible for controlling heart rate.

Where are Nitrates found and What are Their Uses?

Naturally, nitrates are found in foods such as vegetables. Most especially, in beetroot which is used to make beetroot juice that helps increase performance. Also, Nitrates are found in meat. It gives the meat a pinkish or reddish color.

Nitrates turn into nitrites due to the help of bacteria which are then converted to nitric oxide. Nitric oxide reacts with the oxygen-binding protein found in meat. Without nitrites, the meat would turn brown very quickly.

Commonly, nitrates taste salty and give color to the meat. Nitrates that are naturally found in beetroot also help increase performance during exercise. In addition, it is a natural enhancer that is mostly consumed by sports enthusiast. Nitrates function as a preservative that helps in preventing the growth of harmful bacteria in food.

Mostly used in processed foods like sausages, bacon, hotdogs, and hams. The nitrates are added to meat that gives a salty taste and eliminates bacterial growth that causes foul odor thus preserving the meat from decomposition.

Nitrates VS Nitrites

These two, nitrates and nitrites, are relatively related with one another. They do not go far from one another. The other is just the conversion of the other with the help of certain salivary glands and bacteria. Studies show that both are just as equally hazardous to the health.

Researchers conducted a test to check the level of nitrates in vegetables and meat. The test found out that nitrates are abundant in vegetables than in processed meat. On the brighter side, there is a way that nitrosamides can be inhibited. That is by using antioxidants such as Vitamin C and Vitamin E during curing or the preservation process.

Nitrates, when exposed to high heat create nitrosamide and are one of the causes of diseases. Since the processed foods that we love to eat are rich with nitrates, they basically are toxic and unhealthy.

Furthermore, nitrates are used in fertilizers for agriculture. Nitrates were converted to ammonium, sodium, potassium and calcium salts that are commonly used in fertilizers. Excessive fertilization can also lead to eutrophication.

As defined, eutrophication is the process of enrichment of the ecosystem with chemical nutrients such as fertilizers. Eutrophication can create algae that will cover the water sources and can lead to scarcity that can also be the cause of changes in the ecosystem.

Much as it helps us in food preservation that provides us these delightful and tasty products and used as fertilizer in growing plants, the fact of the matter is, it’s still dangerous to our health. As what studies have shown, this disease-causing chemical is one of the potent carcinogens. Not only can this carcinogen be found in food but it is also present in water too.

Dangers to the Health

Nitrates are one of the common causes of diseases in infants not older than 6 months. Nitrates cause blood disorder wherein abnormal hemoglobin, called methemoglobin, is produced. Methemoglobin can carry oxygen throughout the body; however, methemoglobin is not able to effectively release oxygen to body tissues.

This disorder is medically called as Methemoglobinemia or commonly called as “Baby Blue Syndrome.” The occurrence of methemoglobin is due to iron oxidation in hemoglobin. Iron is unable to be converted from ferrous iron to ferric iron that aids in releasing oxygen. Due to the problem of releasing oxygen in body tissues, lack of oxygen occurs in the body organs. Methemoglobinemia can be treated with the help of Methylene Blue.

How to Protect your Family from this Toxic Chemical?

There are ways to prevent nitrate toxicosis. Such ways are minimizing consumption of processed food that is rich in nitrates, eating organic food that uses organic fertilizers, eating a diet that is high in antioxidants such as Vitamin C and Vitamin E that inhibits nitrates and most importantly, making sure that drinking water is free from chemicals and other substances that are present in water.

As a member of the family, we make sure that we only want what’s best for our family to keep them healthy and free from diseases. Since those who are gravely affected are infants not older than 6 months, due to a weak resistance, we are not aware that the water we provide them is contaminated with nitrates.

Water and formulated milk is the only source that can keep them hydrated aside from breast milk. One way to keep the assurance is to make sure that drinking water is filtered and purified. Some purifiers usually use chemicals as reagents to filter water, but scientists have found a way that can purify water without the use of toxic chemicals.

Water purification methods for nitrate contamination are a distillation, reverse osmosis, ion-exchange, and blending. Nitrates are not removed from water by boiling, adding softening agents, or by activated charcoal water purification filters. 


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