Does beet consumption prevent heart disease?

Nitrate supplementation enhances vascular function in women.

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Researchers at Penn State studied whether beetroot juice could improve blood vessel function in postmenopausal women and lower heart disease risk. Daily beetroot juice consumption may enhance blood vessel function by increasing nitric oxide levels, which helps widen blood vessels.

This is particularly beneficial during low oxygen delivery, like during a heart attack. The study by David Proctor and Jocelyn Delgado Spicuzza involved 24 women in their 50s and 60s.

After menopause, women face a significant health challenge as they lose estrogen, which in turn reduces nitric oxide in the body, raising heart disease risk. However, there is hope. Foods rich in nitrate, like beets, are being studied as a natural way to protect the heart. Unlike nitrates found in processed meats, which are regulated due to cancer risks, nitrates in plants, such as beets, can benefit heart health as the body can turn them into nitric oxide, potentially countering the effects of menopause on heart health.

The study’s success was largely due to the invaluable participation of the 24 women in their 50s and 60s. They had their vascular function tested at Penn State Clinical Research Center, and for a week, they diligently drank concentrated beetroot juice daily, equivalent to nitrate in three large beets.

Later, they drank beetroot juice with nitrate removed. Neither researchers nor participants knew which juice they drank during tests. A day after their last dose, vascular function was tested again to compare how well blood vessels expanded with and without nitrate-rich juice.

Using an ultrasound, researchers monitored blood flow in the brachial artery during a five-minute stress test in which forearm blood flow was restricted. After release, they measured changes in blood flow.

Results showed that daily nitrate-rich beetroot juice improved blood flow compared to nitrate-free juice. Maintaining this improvement could reduce heart disease risk. The long-term benefits of beetroot juice need more study, but nitrate-rich vegetables have proven cardiovascular benefits.

Professor Proctor suggests daily or frequent beetroot juice intake for full cardiovascular benefits. This research highlights beetroot juice’s potential in protecting mid-life women’s blood vessel health during high heart disease risk periods.

The study included early postmenopausal (one to six years after menopause) and late postmenopausal (six or more years after menopause) women. Both groups benefited from beetroot juice. This is significant as some treatments, like hormone therapy, are only safe in the early postmenopausal years.

Beetroot juice offers a safe and effective way to improve blood vessel function, essential for postmenopausal women’s cardiovascular health. Delgado Spicuzza highlights its potential significance, considering women spend a third of their lives postmenopausal.

Delgado Spicuzza, the first research author and current SAFE-T center research project manager, said, “Several participants said they intended to continue consuming beetroot juice after the study concluded. There seems to be a real desire on the part of postmenopausal women to support their cardiovascular health without taking additional medications. In part, I believe beets can be a complimentary food to improve blood vessel health in millions of women as they age.” 

Journal reference:

  1. Jocelyn M. Delgado Spicuzza, Jigar Gosalia etal., Seven-day dietary nitrate supplementation clinically significantly improves basal macrovascular function in postmenopausal women: a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, crossover clinical trial. Frontiers in Nutrition. DOI: 10.3389/fnut.2024.1359671.

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