New research that shows that a component in beets may help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease – the leading cause of dementia – adding to growing evidence of the health benefits this root vegetable offers.
The study, presented at the 255th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society in New Orleans, found that betalain, the chemical that gives beets its distinctive red color, may help slow the accumulation of misfolded proteins in the brain, associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
The new findings are only the latest endorsement of the health benefits of beets.
“ Beets are rich in nutrients that boost brain health, especially antioxidant flavonoids that protect the brain from age-related oxidative stress,” notes Dr. Gary Small, director of the UCLA Longevity Center and author of The Mind Health Report newsletter.
Here’s a rundown on what the latest studies show about how the red root veggie may help combat a variety of health conditions:
Slows aging: According to several studies by Oxford Brooks University in the U.K. researchers and others, beet juice – more than any other vegetable beverage – helps protect against oxidative stress damage to DNA, linked to aging.
Helps brains work better: Researchers at Wake Forest University in Winton-Salem, N.C. found beet juice supplements boosted the brain function of 26 sedentary men and women with high blood pressure. When taken before exercise, participants’ brains performed better – acting more like younger brains – than individuals who took an inactive placebo.
Lowers blood pressure: Beets are rich in dietary nitrate, which widens blood vessels, and allows blood to flow more easily through the body. This is why multiple studies, including one published in the American Heart Association’s journal Hypertension, have found beet juice is a powerful aid in lowering blood pressure. Researchers found that drinking 8 ounces of beet juice daily lowered blood pressure by 10 mm Hg. In fact, people on hypertension medication may want to check with their doctor before using beet juice for this purpose, to make sure they don’t experience a low blood pressure dip, the researchers warned.
Improves quality of life for heart failure patients: Taking beet supplements may increase the ability of people with congestive heart failure to exercise, which can improve quality of life, new research finds. The Indiana University study examined the effect of the supplements in whose hearts do not pump strongly enough. Those taking the supplements had significant increases in exercise duration and peak oxygen uptake while exercising, the study found.
Boosts exercise endurance: The power of beets to boost exercise endurance is not limited to people with heart failure. A small study by researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., found that beet supplements enabled healthy people to perform aerobic exercise better.
Prevents cancer: A study published in the Journal of Complementary & Integrative Medicine found that, when beetroot extract was added to the drinking water of animals in laboratory studies, tumor growth was reduced pancreatic, breast and prostate cancer cells.
Improves eye health: It’s not just beets and beet juice that are beneficial; beet greens are rich in the carotenoid lutein, which helps protect against cataracts and age-related macular degeneration – the leading causes of blindness in the U.S., the American Optometric Association says.
While beets, beet juice, and beet greens are generally considered safe, they are high in dietary oxalates. As a result, if you’re susceptible to kidney stones or gout, you may want to check with your doctor first before consuming them.
Also be aware that beet and beet juice consumption may stain your urine, or stool, red, which can be easily mistaken for blood.
To add more beets to your diet, nutritionist Vicki Shanta Retelny, author of “Total Body Diet for Dummies,” offers the following tips:
- Chop beets and add to mixed green salads
- When making pesto, substitute beetroot leaves for basil
- Mix cubed beets into tuna, crab, or chicken salads
- Puree beets into soup. (Borscht is soup made from beets)
- Sauté diced beets into a veggie hash and serve with eggs
- Puree beets into smoothies
- Freeze beet juice into molds for popsicles
- Roast beets with other root veggies with a hint of oil, rosemary, and garlic
- Pile sliced beets into a sandwich with hummus, turkey breast, and lettuce
- Cut beets into coleslaw by combining with green cabbage and carrots with light vinaigrette dressing
- Puree beets and blend them into muffin and brownie batter
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