A new study by researchers at Wake Forest University has shown that daily consumption of beetroot juice can promote brain health in older adults - a finding that could have great potential for combating the mental decline common in the elderly. The new findings add to a growing list of healthy benefits which have been attributed to regular consumption of beetroot juice.
The new study, which is being published in Nitric Oxide: Biology and Chemistry, the peer-reviewed journal of the Nitric Oxide Society, is the first to find a link between consumption of nitrate-rich beet juice and increased blood flow to the brain.
"There have been several very high-profile studies showing that drinking beet juice can lower blood pressure, but we wanted to show that drinking beet juice also increases perfusion, or blood flow, to the brain," said Daniel Kim-Shapiro, director of Wake Forest University's Translational Science Center; Fostering Independence in Aging. "There are areas in the brain that become poorly perfused as you age, and that's believed to be associated with dementia and poor cognition."
In the study, researchers looked at how dietary nitrates affected 14 adults age 70 and older over a period of four days. On the first day of the study, subjects fasted for 10 hours and then reported to the lab, completed a health status report, and consumed either a high or low nitrate breakfast. The high nitrate breakfast included 16 ounces of beet juice. The subjects were sent home with lunch, dinner and snacks which conformed to their assigned diets.
The following day, after another 10-hour fast, the subjects returned to the lab and again ate their assigned breakfasts. One hour after breakfast, an MRI was used to record the blood flow in each subject's brain. In addition, blood tests before and after breakfast measured nitrite levels in the body.
For the third and fourth days of the study, the researchers switched the two groups' diets and repeated the process for each subject. The MRI measurements showed that after eating a high-nitrate diet, the older adults had increased blood flow to the area of the frontal lobes, which are commonly associated with degeneration that leads to dementia and other age-related cognitive decline.
"I think these results are consistent and encouraging -- that good diet consisting of a lot of fruits and vegetables can contribute to overall good health," said Gary Miller, one of the senior investigators on the study and an associate professor in the Department of Health and Exercise Science.
High concentrations of nitrates are found in beets, as well as in celery, cabbage and other leafy green vegetables like spinach and some lettuce. When you eat high-nitrate foods, good bacteria in the mouth turn nitrate into nitrite. Research has found that nitrites can help open up the blood vessels in the body and increase blood flow and oxygen specifically to places that are lacking oxygen.
Beetroot juice has also been found to lower blood pressure and maintain healthy blood pressure levels. In a 2008 study, volunteers showed significant decreases in blood pressure within three hours of drinking 500 milliliters (about 17 ounces) of beetroot juice - and the drop in blood pressure was maintained for up to 24 hours after the juice was consumed.
In addition to promoting brain function and lowering blood pressure, beets also help protect against cancer(especially colon cancer), help cleanse the bowels, help strengthen the gall bladder, increase stamina and more.
To learn more about the benefits of beetroot juice and beets, see: