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The Surprising Benefits of Beets
The Surprising Benefits of Beets
At my naturopathic clinic, we’ve recently added beet juice to our list of suggested therapies. We recommend beet juice for a wide range of issues, from high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems to senile dementia. I suspect, though, that the first people to adopt this new regimen will be athletes.
I first heard of the healing power of beet juice not by reading professional journals, but from a patient whose mother had had success with it. It turns out there’s plenty of published scientific data to back the health benefits of beet juice.
Unearthing the research
Since 2008, a series of studies have demonstrated significant health changes in people who drank beet juice. One of these studies, published in the March 2008 issue of Hypertension, found that drinking two cups of beet juice per day lowered blood pressure almost 10 points in healthy volunteers while also protecting blood vessels from injury and lowering blood clot risk.
But the more impressive research involved athletes. In 2009 and 2010, researchers at University of Exeter demonstrated that people who drink beet juice tolerate much higher intensity exercise, because their muscles are able do the same work with less oxygen. The same researchers also found that beet juice drinkers maintain lower blood pressure during intense exercise than non-drinkers, and therefore experience less strain on their hearts.
And it’s not just the athletes’ health that’s improved by beet juice: Their performance gets a boost, too. A study published in the February 2012 issue of the International Journal of Sport, Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism found that highly trained cyclists shaved more than 10 seconds off their 10-kilometer race times after drinking beet juice.
Could beet juice provide a brain boost? Some research suggests it can. A study published in the January 2011 issue of Nitric Oxide reported that older adults who drink beet juice had increased blood flow to areas of the brain involved with interpreting information and making intelligent decisions. It’s thought that the more blood that reaches the brain, the better and clearer a person thinks. When blood flow to the brain is restricted, it can’t do its job well.
How does it work?
Beet juice contains a number of beneficial compounds, some of which are nitrates, which are concentrated in beetroots. Nitrates are absorbed into the blood and converted to nitrites, which are in turn used to make a chemical called nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a potent vasodilator, meaning it opens blood vessels, allowing blood and oxygen to flow smoothly while also easing blood pressure.
This might be surprising, since nitrates and nitrites, which appear in cured and smoked meats, have been dietary villains for years. Scientists now encourage greater nitrate consumption. In fact, a commonly prescribed diet for people with high blood pressure contains nitrate levels 550% higher than those recommended by the World Health Organization, according to a study in the July 2009 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It’s important to note that the high nitrate diet recommended does not include nitrates from highly processed and cured meats. Those foods have been shown to damage health.
In addition to nitrates, beets also contain numerous phytochemicals, including quercetin, resveratrol and other potent antioxidants. The unique combination of these agents in beets is essential to their effectiveness: Studies comparing whole beet juice to juice with nitrates removed found that only non-adulterated, pure beet juice offers the impressive health benefits.
Although beet juice is not yet widely available commercially, it can be made at home from fresh beets. I’m also confident that more natural foods suppliers will begin carrying it now that its countless health benefits are coming to light.
Dr. Schor is a graduate of the National College of Naturopathic Medicine and now practices in Denver. He served as president of the Colorado Association of Naturopathic Physicians and is now on the board of directors of the Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians and is recognized as a Fellow by the American Board of Naturopathic Oncology. He serves on the editorial board for the International Journal of Naturopathic Medicine. In 2008, he was awarded the Vis Award by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.His writing appears often in Natural Medicine Journal, Naturopathy Digest and Naturopathic Doctor News and Review. For more information visit www.DenverNaturopathic.com.
May 10th, 2012