Beets and beet juice have been in the news lately because of their ability to lower blood pressure. This is great news for those who have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, which is a serious concern as it can lead to kidney failure. In fact, a majority of patients on dialysis end up there due to either high blood pressure or diabetes or a combination of these disorders.
It turns out that nutritional nitric oxide – no, not laughing gas, that’s nitrous oxide – plays an important role in normalizing blood pressure. One of the functions of nitric oxide is to cause the endothelial cells that line the inside of blood vessels to relax, or to dilate. This lowers blood pressure. One of the reason why people develop high blood pressure is they eat a diet high in salt. And sodium retention in the body reduces the synthesis of nitric oxide.
So, how do beets help this process? In order to provide the body with more nitric oxide, a precursor is needed for the conversion. One precursor is the amino acid L-arginine however, another precursor is dietary nitrate. In the body, dietary nitrate is converted to nitric acid.
Still with me? Dietary nitrate is found in many fruits and vegetables. Significant amounts of nitrate are found in arugula, celery, lettuce and spinach. But a really concentrated form is found in beets and beetroot juice. The juice is extracted from the beetroots you cook, not from sugar beets. Researchers have found that nitrate-rich beet juice can improve blood vessel flexibility and tone thus, reducing blood pressure. Beetroot juice also has been found to lower the risk of glaucoma and improve athletic performance. Bottom line – eat beets! They’re really good roasted and added to salads.
Horacio J. Adrogué, M.D., and Nicolaos E. Madias, M.D. (2007) Sodium and Potassium in the Pathogenesis of Hypertension. New England Journal of Medicine 356:1966-1978.
Wellness Magazine, Winter 2017; pg 56-60.