What is sodium nitrite?

Sodium nitrite (NaNO2) is a salt used to cure meat and which is being studied for a variety of medical uses. Studies have shown that sodium nitrite can be administered intravenously into someone suffering from severe cyanide poisoning. Once inside the body, sodium nitrite converts hemoglobin to methemoglobin. Although methemoglobin is unable to carry oxygen, it attracts cyanide molecules, which are then flushed out of the body in the urine.

New research suggests that sodium nitrite may help prevent tissue damage and preserve organ function in people who have had a heart attack, organ transplant or a high-risk abdominal surgery. Animal studies imply that only a small amount of sodium nitrite is needed for its protective effects to be fully realized. Further clinical trials are testing its possible medical use to treat people with sickle cell anemia.

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