High blood pressure is a significant health problem, and if you're reading this article, you may be among the 68 million people in the United States or an estimated 1 billion around the world affected by this often serious condition. One way to help lower your blood pressure may come in the form of beet juice, but what do you know about beet juice?
What should you know about beets and beet juice
Beets are admittedly not one of the most popular vegetables on the market, and therefore it's no surprise that beet juice doesn't make the top 10 list either. But these nutritious root veggies are an excellent source of nitrates, a substance that helps open up blood vessels and thus improves blood flow and lowers blood pressure in the process.
This quality of beets has been investigated in a number of studies in recent years. The most recent study, appearing in the Nutrition Journal and conducted by investigators at Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia, examined the impact of beet juice on blood pressure levels in 30 healthy men and women who continued to consume their normal diet.
The 15 men and 15 women were randomly assigned to drink 500 grams of beetroot and apple juice or a placebo juice. Blood pressure measurements were taken before they consumed the juice and then every hour for 24 hours, using an ambulatory monitor.
Two weeks after the first session, the volunteers were again given beet juice or placebo juice, but this time they received the juice they had not consumed previously. Again, blood pressure was monitored and this is what the authors found overall.
- Six hours after consuming the beet juice, there was a trend toward lower systolic blood pressure (that's the top number of a blood pressure reading; e.g., in 120/90 mmHg, 120 is the systolic pressure)
- After making adjustments for variables, the authors saw a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure of 4 mmHg to 5 mmHg in men but not in women. Previous research has indicated that a reduction of 5 mmHg in systolic blood pressure is associated with about a 10 percent reduced risk of cardiovascular death
- Systolic blood pressure declined about 2.5 mmHg among women
More about beets and beet juice
Previous studies regarding potential health benefits of beet juice have provided promising results. For example, two experiments conducted at the University of Reading compared the use of beet juice alone with bread products that contained beet juice to see the impact on blood pressure.
Eighteen men with normal blood pressure consumed varying amounts of beet juice (0 to 500 grams) and had their blood pressure monitored. Systolic and diastolic blood pressure declined 22 mmHg and 18 mmHg, respectively, among men who drank 500 grams of beet juice. For those who consumed 100 grams, blood pressure dropped 13 mmHg and 16.6 mmHg, respectively.
When the men ate bread containing 100 grams of beet juice, systolic and diastolic blood pressure declined 17 to 19 mmHg and 23 to 24 mmHg, respectively. But bread is not the only food that may be a carrier for beets and beet juice.
At the University of Aberdeen, researchers are exploring adding beets to processed foods, such as burgers. According to the investigative team, they "believe that adding a vegetable extract such as beetroot, which contains antioxidant compounds, will ... prohibit the body from absorbing the bad fat." Saturated and trans fats are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
An earlier study from Wake Forest University's Translational Science Center found that drinking beet juice increased blood flow to the brain, which could help in the fight against cognitive decline and dementia. Should a bottle of beet juice be on your holiday gift list this year, especially for elderly family members?
The bottom line
Studies conducted thus far, including the newest from Australia, indicate that beets and beet juice provide health benefits, especially when it comes to lowering blood pressure. In addition to beets, other vegetables that contain a significant amount of nitrates (more than 250 mg per 100 grams of fresh food) include arugula, celery, chervil, cress, lettuce, and spinach, foods that also may help reduce blood pressure.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Coles LT, Clifton PM. Effect of beetroot juice on lowering blood pressure in free-living, disease-free adults: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Nutrition Journal 2012 Dec; 11:106
Santamaria P: Nitrate in vegetables: toxicity, content, intake and EC regulation. Journal of Science and Food Agriculture 2006, 86:10–17
Staessen JA et al. Cardiovascular protection and blood pressure reduction: a meta-analysis. Lancet 2001, 358:1305–1315
World Health Organization
Image: Wikimedia Commons