By Sara Migliarese & David McConnall
If your mom fed you beets when you were a kid, then she was a very wise woman. If you ate them, you were an amazingly wise kid. Unfortunately for me, I was not one of those amazing kids. I never could eat beets and still can’t. Luckily, for those of us who don’t enjoy beets, local scientists have developed a new way to deliver the benefits of beets in a liquid form. Recent scientific breakthroughs involving the study of nitrates and nitrites and their role in cardiovascular health are shedding positive light on the benefits of foods rich in dietary nitrates, which the body uses to make nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a compound that improves blood flow throughout the body, including to regional areas of the brain. Turns out those beets that your mom force-fed you are one of the richest dietary sources of antioxidants and nitrates. At a recent community seminar at Wake Forest University, researchers from the WFU Translational Science Center: Fostering Independence in Aging (TSC), along with visiting scientists from Duke, the University of Pittsburg and Louisiana State University, shared an exciting innovation developed by the TSC, called “Unbeetable,” an all-natural beetroot juice (no caffeine, gluten free, non- GMO) now available for purchase on Amazon. This panel of experts in this new area of cardiovascular health answered questions for 60 minutes from an audience consisting of students, researchers, and a large group of older adults from our local community anxious to learn more about the power of nitrates and beetroot juice.
The panel began with a brief explanation of how nitrate is utilized by the body to boost muscle efficiency, lower blood pressure, and increase blood flow. These healthy benefits have been studied in athletes trying to boost performance, in patients with pulmonary hypertension, and in older adults with decreased blood flow to various regions of the body. “Unbeetable” is one vehicle that provides the recommended 500+/- mg daily dose of dietary nitrate for general health in its uncarbonated form and 250 +/- mg in the carbonated form, which many may find tastier. Other fruits and vegetables also contain nitrate, such as kale, radishes and spinach, but must be ingested in large amounts to obtain the daily recommended dose of nitrate. Wake Forest researcher and TSC Assistant Director, Gary Miller, PhD., a nutritionist, stated that you would have to eat one to one and one-half beets to get 500 mg of nitrate, which I could never stomach! As an interested older adult in the audience, I sampled the Unbeetable juice (both with and without carbonation) and found the carbonated version to be quite good. The audience was warned that long term use of beet juice will give urine and stool a reddish appearance, but that the potential cardiovascular benefits seem to far outweigh the color changes or digestive adjustment period when adding a new compound to your diet. While research is not substantial yet regarding the exact mechanism of action or best dose for older adults, the nitrate in beet juice shows promise in the growth of new blood vessels (angiogenesis), control of blood pressure, improving cognition through better blood flow to the brain, and enhancing muscle performance, which may positively influence fall risk, muscle strength, and fracture rates.
The TSC was recently grant funded for another five years and will continue to investigate the healthy benefits of Unbeetable. The TSC website (tsc.wfu.edu) explains that: “Under the continued direction of Daniel Kim-Shapiro (Physics), the TSC focuses on promoting and maintaining functional health in aging. Both past and current research projects look at the effects of interventions on nitrate and nitrite and cardiovascular health, cognitive function and physical activity. The center team includes medical staff, behavioral scientists and basic scientists who develop experimental interventions to improve physical and cognitive health in aging populations while using observations from these interventions to plan new studies.”
With a local community filled with a significant population of older adults interested in “beeting” poor health through more natural means, as well as athletes looking for an edge on the competition, we look forward to future research from the team at the TSC. Meanwhile, I am drinking my beet juice!