Do beets improve blood circulation and if so why?
Beets (Beta vulgaris) are a red root vegetable known, not only for their great nitrate levels, but also noted as a good source of vitamin A, beta carotene and iron. They contain antioxidants and their rich pigment provides essential carotenoids and flavonoids for health benefits. Because of their nitrates, they are known to help blood pressure and provide good support to exercise performance.
The health profession has encouraged a diet rich in fruits and vegetables for many reasons. Vegetarian diets are rich in vegetables that contain nitrates. Green leafy vegetables, as well as beets, carrots, cabbage, spinach, celery and radishes contain a substantial amount of nitrates. Nitrates are known to support, immunity, blood flow, the heart, help to regulate neurotransmitters and help exercise performance.
Nitric oxide is a compound that is produced by many cells in the body and is very important for the blood vessels. It is a vasodilator, which means that it dilates or relaxes the muscles within the blood vessels. This effect causes them to expand to help increase blood flow and lower blood pressure. When a person exercises it causes a release of nitric oxide to increase vasodilation for oxygen and nutrients to flow through the blood vessels to the tissues.
Nitric oxide also is involved in important signaling within cells of the body helping skeletal muscle function through different mechanisms. It helps to control blood, muscle contraction, calcium balance, glucose and mitochondrial function. The mitochondria in cells is the power house of the cells where energy is made. There is research that suggests that dietary nitrates may increase the capacity for the manufacturing of ATP in the mitochondria.
Nitric oxide pathways
There are 2 pathways for nitric oxide. The first pathway that occurs in the body is where the amino acid, L arginine is converted to nitric oxide by enzymes called nitric oxide synthases. The second pathway occurs when nitrates are consumed from the diet. The food such as beets travels to the stomach and the nitrates are rapidly absorbed there and also in the small intestines. Then the nitrates enter into the blood stream. Nitric oxide makes a positive impact in blood vessels.
It has been shown that during the aging process, there is a decline in nitric oxide production in the body. In addition, researchers believe it contributes to age-related dysfunctions and health conditions. Therefore, there is a strong interest in the research community to study and determine how to increase nitric oxide levels in the older population.
Consuming dietary nitrates may improve physiological function and mental performance because of its impact on blood flow and cellular energetics. Nitric oxide in endothelial cells of blood vessels shows that it plays a role in maintaining blood vessel wall balance.
Beet root juice has been shown to help improve exercise performance and cardiovascular responses because of the effect from nitric oxide availability. It makes sense since nitric oxide helps to relax blood vessels.
Research has shown that short term and long term consumption of dietary nitrates especially from beets has helped to improve oxygen uptake during exercise and improve exercise performance. There is research to show that beet supplementation may help to improve exercise tolerance including treadmill running. Beets may also help improve exercise endurance by increasing the length of time for a person to become exhausted, which helps the heart and respiratory system.
Since beet nitrates have demonstrated to be beneficial for blood flow, they may improve brain function by helping encourage the dilation of blood vessels and thus increasing blood flow to the brain. There is research that has shown that the potential of beets increasing blood flow to the frontal lobe of the brain. This part of the brain is connected with thinking, memory and decision making.
Researchers have shown in aging individuals there is a connection between an increase in brain plasticity and exercise and also from consuming beet juice. Beet juice increases blood flow because of the increased nitric oxide. This improves exercise performance and increased blood flow to the brain. It has been stated that beet juice may be a great nutritional complement to exercise.
There is research that has demonstrated that certain beet root supplements rich in nitrates help fast twitch muscle fibers during exercise. These fibers contract quickly during high-intensity exercise. It also helped to improve the efficiency of intake of oxygen in muscles that are fatigued.
Brain plasticity (neuroplasticity) is a term that describes the brain's ability to change and adjust because of experience. Neuro is in reference to neurons, which are the nerve cells of the brain and also nervous system. An example of neuroplasticity is when children have different types of experiences, they learn faster.
Heart and Blood Vessel Health
The arteries are blood vessels where blood pressure increases as resistance increases and blood flow decreases. Arteries flow throughout the whole body to deliver oxygen and nutrients to tissues including the heart and brain.
It has been shown that beet root supplementation helps to increase plasma nitrite concentrations and aid in reducing blood pressure. Beet root may improve cardiovascular health.
More about Nitrates from the diet
Your body makes around 62 milligrams (mg) of nitrites a day, but the majority of nitrates come from your diet. The National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute is the group that assisted with developing the DASH diet. This diet is also recommended by The American Heart Association. The DASH diet varies with nitrate levels from 174 to 1222 mg.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has determined that the “acceptable daily intake (ADI) for nitrate levels of 3.7mg/kg body weight per day, which is equivalent to 222 mg nitrate per day for a 60-kg (132 pound) adult.
If you have a health condition and or take medication, it’s always best to check with your healthcare provider prior to taking supplements. This includes individuals that may be on blood pressure medication.
DASH Diet. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/education/dash-eating-plan
Kelly J et al. Effects of short-term dietary nitrate supplementation on blood pressure, O2 uptake kinetics, and muscle and cognitive function in older adults. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp. Physiol. 2013;304:R73–R83.
Petrie M, Rejeski WJ, Basu S, et al. Beet root juice: An ergogenic aid for exercise and the aging brain. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2017;72(9):1284-1289.
Stanaway L et al. Review, performance and health benefits of dietary nitrate supplementation in older adults: A systematic review. Nutrients. 2017;9(1171):1-16.