Beetroot juice and exercise are being investigated as a treatment for cardiovascular problems. And understanding the workings of the combination could lead to other, more sophisticated therapies.
That’s the hope of Professor Jason Allen and his PhD student Mary Woessner from the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Active Living (ISEAL) at Victoria University in western Melbourne.
Beetroot juice contains relatively high levels of inorganic nitrate, which the body breaks down to use as a source of nitric oxide, a versatile chemical messenger.
One of its most important roles is triggering the dilation of blood vessels. That makes it a handy treatment for atherosclerosis-related conditions, where fatty material or plaque builds up on the inner walls of blood vessels, decreasing blood flow.
Exercise is an effective long-term therapy for several cardiovascular diseases. But in arteries narrowed by atherosclerotic plaques, the ability to increase the supply of blood and oxygen to working muscles can be limited, Jason says.
If the plaques are in the legs this is known as peripheral arterial disease (PAD) which can be very painful and limit physical activity.
Working at Duke University in the US, Jason and Mary showed that in PAD sufferers nitric oxide and its precursors decreased during exercise. They found drinking a high nitrate beverage, such as beetroot juice, a couple of hours before an exercise session could ‘resupply’ some of these precursors. This had a large beneficial effect on exercise performance.
Mary is looking at the same problem for her PhD, but in those who suffer from chronic heart failure, where the heart can’t pump enough blood and oxygen to meet the body’s needs.
Subsequent research will try to clarify the mechanisms at work, and when treatment would be most effective.
Banner image credit: Victoria University
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