Just like physical exercise, beetroot has already been identified as a source of health benefits. Several studies have demonstrated that it can increase blood flow to the brain, boost stamina, and combat hypertension among older people suffering from heart disease.
Now a new study conducted by researchers from Wake Forest University in North Carolina has broken new ground by revealing the beneficial effect of beetroot juice on the brains of older people who drank it before exercising.
For the purposes of the study, researchers recruited 26 hypertension sufferers aged 55 over, who did not partake in physical exercise, and who took at least two drugs to regulate their condition. Three times a week over a period of six weeks, half of them drank a beetroot juice supplement (Beet-It Sport Shot) which contained 560 mg of nitrate one hour before 50 minutes of moderately intense exercise on a treadmill.
The other half of the study group was administered a placebo composed of beetroot juice but with a very low level of nitrates.
The researchers found that beetroot juice combined with physical exercise increased the oxygenation of the brain and created an excellent environment for strengthening the somatomotor cortex, the area of the brain that controls information from the muscles. The group drinking the nitrate-rich beetroot also had higher nitrate and nitrite levels after exercise than the placebo group.
Beetroot contains high levels of nitrate which interacts with saliva to form nitrite, and nitric oxide. The latter is a powerful compound that increases blood flow and thereby facilitates the oxygenation of muscles as well as other parts of the body, most notably the brain.
Researchers knew that nitric oxide increases exercise performance. With this latest study, they have demonstrated that juice followed by exercise, when compared to exercise alone, can result in a cerebral function typical of younger brains.
The scope of the study was small, but it does imply that what we eat as we age could play a major role in brain health and functional independence.
These findings have been published in The Journals of Gerontology.