Not Much Can Beat the Beet's Health Benefits!

Patient Expert

Where's the beet?

Excuse the play on words based on the old Wendy's commercial, but we're continually finding out that adding beets to your diet can really be a healthy choice.

First of all, let's define what these are. According to Wikipedia, the beetroot, which is also known as the table beet, garden beet, red or golden beet or just a beet in North America, refers to the cultivated varieties of beets that are grown for their edible taproots.

A new study published in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension found that drinking eight ounces of beetroot juice can reduce blood pressure by about 10 mm Hg. However, researchers point out that these are preliminary findings and don't yet advocate adding a regular dose of beetroot juice.

This study involved 15 participants, seven of which were men. All of the participants had a systolic blood pressure between 140-159 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Systolic blood pressure, which is the top number of the two numbers indicating blood pressure, indicates the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats. Diastolic blood pressure, which is the bottom (and lower) number, measures blood pressure in the arteries between heart beats.

These participants did not have other medical complications and were not on medication to control their blood pressure. The participants drank 250 mL of beet juice or water that contained a small amount of nitrate. They also had their blood pressure monitored over a 24-hour period.

The juice contained about 0.2 grams of dietary nitrate, which is the equivalent found in a large bowl of lettuce or two beets. The body then converts the nitrate to a chemical called nitrite that, in turn, converts into nitric oxide in the blood. Nitric oxide, which is a gas, actually widens blood vessels, thus assisting with blood flow.

The researchers found that the participants who drank the beet juice experienced a reduction in their systolic and diastolic blood pressure numbers, even when nitrite circulating in the blood pressure returned to the levels seen prior to drinking the juice. This effect was the strongest from 3-5 hours after drinking the beet juice, but still could be seen 24 hours later. The same response was not seen in the group that drank the water containing a low amount of nitrate.

"We were surprised by how little nitrate was needed to see such a large effect," said Dr. Amrita Ahluwalia, a professor of vascular pharmacology at The Barts and The London Medical School in London, who served as lead author. "This study shows that compared to individuals with healthy blood pressure much less nitrate is needed to produce the kinds of decreases in blood pressure that might provide clinical benefits in people who need to lower their blood pressure. However, we are still uncertain as to whether this effect is maintained in the long term."

Beets also provide other health benefits. According to the George Mateljan Foundation, beets offer a unique source of betalains, which is a type of phytonutrients. Betalains have been found to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and detoxification properties. The foundation pointed to recent studies that suggest that betanin pigments from beets may lessen tumor cell growth. However, betalains decrease with cooking time. Therefore, beets that have been cooked lower amounts of time are better for you.

The foundation also points out that beet fiber may provide special health benefits, especially related to digestion (including possibly preventing colon cancer) and supporting the cardiovascular system. Additionally, beets are believed to have anti-cancer benefits that may reduce the risk of many types, including colon, stomach, nerve, lung, breast, prostate and testicular cancers.

However, 10-15 percent of U.S. adults may experience a reddening of the urine after eating beets. Beeturia (which this situation is called) isn't considered harmful, but may be an indicator of problems with iron metabolism. Therefore, if you experience beeturia and suspect that you may have iron-related problems, talk to your health care provider.

Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

American Heart Association. (2013). Drinking cup of beetroot juice daily may help lower blood pressure.

George Mateljan Foundation. (nd). Beets.