Beetroot Juice… Fountain of Youth for Your Brain?
Juan Ponce de León may be best known throughout history as the explorer in search of the elusive Fountain of Youth, though he is certainly not the only one to have sought the key to eternal or longer-lasting youthfulness. While there isn’t an actual Fountain of Youth (or, we haven’t found it yet…) a recent study shows an amazing relationship between beetroot juice and a younger-performing brain.
What Makes Beet Juice So Special?
Beets and beetroot juice are extremely rich in the nutrient nitrate. Nitrate is converted to nitrite, then nitric oxide when consumed. Nitric oxide is an amazing molecule that opens blood vessels, increasing blood flow and oxygen. Vasodilation is especially impactful in the brain, which consumes as much as 20 percent of the body’s total oxygen intake.
Two Separate Studies Show Brain Benefits from Beets
Wake Forest University conducted a study in 2010 that first established a link between beet consumption and increased blood flow to the brain. Daniel Kim-Shapiro, director of Wake Forest University’s Translational Science Center, noted that although several high-profile studies had shown beet juice could lower blood pressure, “We wanted to show that drinking beet juice can also increase blood flow to the brain.”
This groundbreaking study exposed 14 subjects, age 70 and older, to high- or low-nitrate diets over the course of four days.
- Day 1: After a 10-hour fast, participants completed a health status report and then ate a breakfast high or low in nitrates. The high-nitrate breakfast included 16 oz of beet juice. Participants were then sent home with lunch, dinner and snacks conforming to their assigned diets.
- Day 2: The same 10-hour fast and assigned breakfast were completed. One hour after breakfast, an MRI recorded blood flow to the brain. Blood tests before and after breakfast measured nitrates in the blood.
- Days 3 and 4: The same tests were conducted, but the diets were switched.
- Results: The MRIs of high-nitrate diet participants showed an increase in blood flow to the frontal lobes, the area of the brain commonly associated with dementia and other cognitive, age-related issues.
This initial study showing a definitive link between nitrate-rich beets and increased blood flow to the brain was an encouraging catalyst to the second study.
Second Study Shows More Youthful-Acting Brain
Jack Rejeski is Thurman D. Kitchin Professor and the Director of Behavioral Medicine Laboratory in the Department of Health & Exercise Science at Wake Forest University (WFU). Partnering with the previous study’s Kim-Shapiro and other WFU scientists, this 2017 study aimed to establish an additional benefit of beets for the brain when combined with exercise. Beetroot juice and exercise was shown to increase oxygen to the frontal lobe, which, in part, controls the muscles throughout the body and processes information from the muscles.
- This study consisted of 26 men and women, ages 55 and older (average age of 65) who had high blood pressure, did not exercise, and took no more than two medications for hypertension.
- Participants were provided either a nitrate-rich beetroot juice supplement or a low-nitrate placebo juice one hour before exercising, three days a week for six weeks.
- They were then instructed to walk for 50 minutes on a treadmill at a moderate intensity.
- The results of the six-week study showed the participants given beetroot juice had much higher levels of nitrate and nitrite than the control, placebo group.
- When combined with the low-oxygen environment that comes with moderately strenuous exercise, the nitric oxide results in more oxygen-rich blood delivered to the brain.
- This strengthens the somatomotor cortex in the brain, which processes information from the muscles.
- Imaging tests showed the brains of the nitrate-fed participants more closely resembled the brains of the younger control group (average age 26).
Is That All Beets are Good For?
As if brain health wasn’t enough, other studies have established a link between nitrate-rich beets and…
- Exercise endurance
- Healthier blood pressure levels among elderly people with heart failure
- Improved running performance among fit adults
- Improved exercise endurance among adults with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
- Reduced blood pressure among adults with hypertension
If you have questions or would like to know more about beetroot juice and the benefits on brain health, please reach out to us by calling (888) 549-5519 or using our online chat feature.