A GLASS of beetroot juice before a brisk walk could help older people stave off Alzheimer’s disease and rejuvenate the brain, according to new research. The vegetable is rich in nitrate which improves blood flow, making middle aged adults as mentally sharp as much younger people, say scientists. Combining the juice and exercise sends extra oxygen to the brain, boosting the somatomotor cortex which detects touch and is affected early in dementia.
Professor Jack Rejeski, of Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, said: “We knew, going in, that a number of studies had shown that exercise has positive effects on the brain. But what we showed in this brief training study of hypertensive older adults was that, as compared to exercise alone, adding a beet root juice supplement to exercise resulted in brain connectivity that closely resembles what you see in younger adults.” Physical exertion strengthens the brain’s somatomotor cortex, which processes information from the muscles, sorting out the cues coming in from the body. Previous research has shown levels of nitrite in the blood are increased by eating root vegetables high in nitrate, which also include carrots and potatoes. Green, leafy vegetables like spinach and kale also have large amounts.
The chemical has been found to have a number of health benefits including reducing blood pressure, improvements in gut health and better exercise performance. This suggested dietary nitrate could help in conditions caused by reduced blood flow, including dementia.
The researchers described the findings published in Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences as “exciting” and said more work is needed to replicate and extend them. They said they suggest what we eat as we age could be vitally important to the maintenance of our brain health and functional independence. Prof Rejeski said it was the first experiment to test the combined effects of exercise and beetroot juice on functional brain networks in the motor cortex and secondary connections between that and the insula, which support mobility.
In the study 26 men and women aged 55 and older who did not exercise and took no more than two medications for high blood pressure drank a beetroot juice supplement called Beet-It Sport Shot three times a week for six weeks. This was an hour before a moderately intense, 50 minute walk on a treadmill. Half the participants received Beet-It containing 560 mg of nitrate and the others a placebo Beet-It with very little nitrate. Blood tests showed although both groups had similar levels of nitrite beforehand, those drinking the beetroot juice had much more than their counterparts after exercise.
Beetroot contains a high level of nitrate which is converted to nitrite and then nitric oxide (NO) when consumed, increasing blood flow in the body. Multiple studies have shown it can improve exercise performance in people of various ages. Prof Rejeski said: “Nitric oxide is a really powerful molecule. It goes to the areas of the body which are hypoxic, or needing oxygen, and the brain is a heavy feeder of oxygen in your body.” The research the latest in a series of findings concerning the effects of beetroot on health.
A 2010 study by the same team was the first to show beet juice can increase blood flow to the brain in older adults. Last year they found a daily does of beetroot juice significantly improved exercise endurance and blood pressure in elderly patients with heart failure. Another study in 2012 showed eating whole beetroots improved running performance among fit adults. And beetroot juice helped chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients increase exercise time, according to a 2015 Wake Forest study.
Research published in 2008 reported blood pressure dropped after drinking beetroot juice. Three years ago a study by the University of Cambridge found just an hour’s exercise a week can reduce the chance of Alzheimer’s disease by almost half.