Drinking beetroot juice may improve blood flow to the brain

Beetroot is a vegetable which contains nitrite, this may be converted to nitric oxide in the body and there are good bacteria present in the mouth which can turn nitrate into nitrite.  In turn, nitric oxide can help to relax blood vessels, increase blood flow and reduce blood pressure in the body.    High concentrations of nitrates are also found in celery, cabbage and other leafy green vegetables like spinach and some lettuce.

A recent study (1) has found that drinking beetroot juice can increase blood flow to the brain in older adults, such a finding may be of great importance in research related dementia prevention and treatment.  The research paper (1) mentions that there have already been many past studies that have shown how drinking beetroot juice can lower blood pressure.  This new study aimed to look at whether drinking beetroot juice could increase blood flow to the brain as well as to the rest of the body. 

Poor blood flow contributes to many disease states and may also be a factor in the decline of physical and cognitive [brain] function in aging.  In a press release (2) one of the study authors,  Daniel Kim-Shapiro,  said “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 this small preliminary study (1), the first to find a link between consumption of nitrate-rich beetroot juice and increased blood flow to the brain, researchers looked at how dietary nitrates affected 14 adults age 70 and older over a period of four days. 

On the first day (1,2), after a 10hour fast, the study participants completed a health status report and consumed either a high- or low-nitrate breakfast.  The high-nitrate breakfast included beetroot juice.  The individuals taking part in the study then went home with lunch, dinner and snacks conforming to their assigned diets.  The next day, following another 10-hour fast, the subjects returned to the research centre, where they ate their assigned breakfasts.  One hour after breakfast, an MRI [magnetic resonance imaging] scan recorded the blood flow in each subject’s brain.  Blood tests before and after breakfast were used to confirm nitrite levels in the body.  For the third and fourth days of the study, the researchers switched the diets and repeated the process for each subject.

The MRI scans showed that after eating a high-nitrate diet, the older adults had increased blood flow to the white matter of the frontal lobes in their brains.  These are the areas of the brain commonly associated with degeneration that leads to dementia and other cognitive conditions.  One of the study authors, Gary Miller, said in the press release (2)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,”

The authors conclude (1)These results suggest that dietary nitrate may be useful in improving regional brain perfusion in older adults in critical brain areas known to be involved in executive functioning”.

Beetroot drinks and supplements are available to buy but it is important to remember that supplements should not be viewed as a substitute for a healthy balanced diet and lifestyle.  Beetroot is also rich source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidant bioflavonoids (bioactive plant compounds) and fibre and would certainly be a good vegetable to include as part of a varied and balanced diet.  As mentioned in previous posts a plant based diet may well be helpful to keeping the brain healthy

(1)Presley TD et al.  2010.  Acute effect of a high nitrate diet on brain perfusion in older adults. Nitric Oxide.  DOI: 10.1016/j.niox.2010.10.002

(2)Press Release.  Wake Forest University (2010, November 2). Daily dose of beet juice promotes brain health in older adults. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 3, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2010/11/101102130957.htm

Written by Ani Kowal