“Beet” High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure may be lowered by drinking beet juice daily

(RxWiki News) You probably know the phrase “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” It may be time to follow a new saying: “A cup of beet juice a day keeps the high blood pressure away.”

Beets are rich in nitrate. In the body, nitrate converts to nitrite, which becomes nitric oxide in the blood. Nitric oxide is a gas that widens blood vessels and aids blood flow.

A small research study finds that a cup of beet juice a day may help reduce blood pressure.

"Eat plenty of vegetables."

Amrita Ahluwalia, PhD, a professor of vascular pharmacology at The Barts and The London Medical School in England, served as lead author on this research.

In this investigation, eight women and seven men with high blood pressure participated. Patients had a systolic blood pressure between 140 to 159 mm Hg. The American Heart Association says that normal blood pressure should be less than 120 (systolic)/80 (diastolic). Pre-hypertension is 120-139 systolic with 80-89 diastolic, and high blood pressure is above 140/90.

Systolic is the top number and a measurement of pressure in the arteries when the heart beats. Diastolic is the bottom number and a measurement of blood pressure in the arteries between heart beats.

Participants did not have other medical complications, and they were not taking blood pressure medication.

They drank about one cup (250 milliliters) of beet juice or water containing a low amount of nitrate. The beet juice contained about 0.2 grams (.007 ounces) of dietary nitrate, levels one might find in a large bowl of lettuce or perhaps two beets.

Scientists monitored patient blood pressure over the next 24 hours. Compared with the placebo group, participants drinking beet juice had reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure—even after nitrite circulating in the blood had returned to their previous levels prior to drinking beet juice. The effect was most pronounced three to six hours after drinking the juice but still present even 24 hours later.

Blood pressure decreased by about 10 mm Hg in high blood pressure patients who drank a cup of beet juice daily. The results demonstrated how dietary nitrate may help relax blood vessel walls and improve blood flow.

“We were surprised by how little nitrate was needed to see such a large effect,” said Ahluwalia.

“This study shows that compared to individuals with healthy blood pressure much less nitrate is needed to produce the kinds of decreases in blood pressure that might provide clinical benefits in people who need to lower their blood pressure. However, we are still uncertain as to whether this effect is maintained in the long term.”

Eating vegetables rich in dietary nitrate and other critical nutrients may be an accessible and inexpensive way to manage blood pressure, Ahluwalia said.

The USDA recommends filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables, and the American Heart Association recommends eating eight or more fruit and vegetable servings every day. Green leafy vegetables are especially rich in nitrates.

Ahluwalia indicated that this study shows that even eating small amounts of fruits and vegetables a day may have positive effects.

While beet juice may have its benefits, Deborah Gordon, MD, an integrative physician at Madrona Homeopathy in Ashland, Oregon, cautions that the drink may not be a cure-all.

"I'm not sure in the long run that it's healthy or sustainable," said Dr. Gordon. "It's a fairly strong tasting drink, increases gut motility [spontaneous movement] quite dramatically in some people, and carries 25 grams of carbohydrates in one cup of juice. It sounds like a great occasional treat, but in my practice, I usually counsel against liquid calories, as they go down so much more easily than foods, yet without properly activating our gastrointestinal response."

The study was published in April in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension. The British Heart Foundation funded the study.

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Review Date: 
April 17, 2013