Drinking a beetroot juice supplement before working out makes the brain of older adults perform more efficiently, mirroring the operations of a younger brain, according to a new study by scientists at Wake Forest University.
“We knew, going in, that a number of studies had shown that exercise has positive effects on the brain,” said W. Jack Rejeski, study co-author. “But what we showed in this brief training study of hypertensive older adults was that, as compared to exercise alone, adding a beet root juice supplement to exercise resulted in brain connectivity that closely resembles what you see in younger adults.”
While continued work in this area is needed to replicate and extend these exciting findings, they do suggest that what we eat as we age could be critically important to the maintenance of our brain health and functional independence.
Beets contain a high level of dietary nitrate, which is converted to nitrite and then nitric oxide (NO) when consumed. NO increases blood flow in the body, and multiple studies have shown it can improve exercise performance in people of various ages.
“Nitric oxide is a really powerful molecule. It goes to the areas of the body which are hypoxic, or needing oxygen, and the brain is a heavy feeder of oxygen in your body,” said Rejeski.
When you exercise, the brain’s somatomotor cortex, which processes information from the muscles, sorts out the cues coming in from the body. Exercise should strengthen the somatomotor cortex.
So, combining beetroot juice with exercise delivers even more oxygen to the brain and creates an excellent environment for strengthening the somatomotor cortex. Post-exercise analysis showed that, although the study groups has similar levels of nitrate and nitrite in the blood before drinking the juice, the beetroot juice group had much higher levels of nitrate and nitrite than the placebo group after exercise.
Research shows drinking beetroot juice may benefit your health. Here’s how.
- Helps lower blood pressure
Beetroot juice may help lower your blood pressure. Researchers found that people who drank 8 ounces of beetroot juice daily lowered both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Nitrates, compounds in beetroot juice that convert into nitric acid in the blood and help widen and relax blood vessels, are thought to be the cause.
- Improves exercise stamina
According to a small 2012 study, drinking beetroot juice increases plasma nitrate levels and boosts physical performance. During the study, trained cyclists who drank 2 cups of beetroot juice daily improved their 10-kilometer time trial by approximately 12 seconds, while also reducing their maximum oxygen output.
- May improve muscle power in people with heart failure
Results of a 2015 study suggest further benefits of nitrates in beetroot juice. The study showed that people with heart failure experienced a 13 percent increase in muscle power two hours after drinking beetroot juice.
- May slow the progression of dementia
According to a 2011 study, nitrates may help increase blood flow to the brain in older people and help slow cognitive decline. After participants consumed a high-nitrate diet which included beetroot juice, their brain MRIs showed increased blood flow in the frontal lobes. The frontal lobes are associated with cognitive thinking and behavior. More studies are needed. But the potential of a high-nitrate diet to help prevent or slow dementia is promising.
- Helps you maintain a healthy weight
Straight beetroot juice is low in calories and has virtually no fat. It’s a great option for your morning smoothie to give you a nutrient and energy boost as your start your day.
- May prevent cancer
Beets get their rich color from betalaines. Betalaines are water-soluble antioxidants. According to a 2014 study, betalaines have chemo-preventive abilities against some cancer cell lines. Betalaines are thought to be free radical scavengers that help find and destroy unstable cells in the body.
- Good source of potassium
Potassium is a mineral electrolyte that helps nerves and muscles function properly. If potassium levels get too low, fatigue, weakness, and muscle cramps can occur. Very low potassium may lead to life-threatening abnormal heart rhythms.
Beets are rich in potassium. Drinking beetroot juice in moderation can help keep your potassium levels optimal.
- Good source of other minerals
Your body can’t function properly without essential minerals. Some minerals boost your immune system while others support healthy bones and teeth. Besides potassium, beetroot juice provides:
- Provides vitamin C
Beetroot juice is a good source of vitamin C. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps boost your immune system and protect cells from damaging free radicals. It also supports collagen production, wound healing, and iron absorption.
- Supports your liver
If your liver becomes overloaded due to the following, it may lead to a condition known as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease:
- a poor diet
- excessive alcohol consumption
- exposure to toxic substances
- sedentary lifestyle
- Beetroot contains betaine, a substance that helps prevent or reduce fatty deposits in the liver.
- Betaine may also help protect your liver from toxins.
- Good source of folate
Folate is a B vitamin that helps prevent neural tube defects such as spinal bifida and anencephaly. It may also decrease your risk of having a premature baby. Beetroot juice is a good source of folate. If you’re of childbearing age, adding folate to your diet can help you get the 600 mcg recommended amount.
- May reduce cholesterol
If you have high cholesterol, consider adding beetroot juice to your diet. A 2011 study on rats found that beetroot extract lowered total cholesterol and triglycerides and increased HDL (good) cholesterol. It also reduced oxidative stress on the liver. Researchers believe beetroot’s cholesterol-lowering potential is likely due to its phytonutrients like flavonoids.