Researchers discover beets beneficial for athletes and cardiovascular patients

October 28, 2014

Topic: sports medicine

There is a new elixir in sports medicine, and football players and heart failure patients alike are talking about it. The treatment may be surprising to some - it is simply beet juice.

There is a new elixir in sports medicine, and football players and heart failure patients alike are talking about it. People are claiming it improves athletic performance and alleviates the effects of heart failure. The treatment may be surprising to some - it is simply beet juice. The findings were published in the journal Physiology.

The Auburn University football team recently opened up about using the substance and taking beet juice before every game. The secret ingredient may be the cause of the football team's winning season. 

The medicinal effects of beet juice
Researcher and study author David Poole, from Kansas State University, stated that beet juice contains nitrate, which increases the blood flow to skeletal muscles during exercise.

Poole recently published a study on the positive effects of beet juice, noting that the increase of blood flow to fast-twitching muscles that are used in sprinting. Poole worked with several of his colleagues at the university to study the effects.

Aside from improving athletic performance, beet juice can also help people who have recently dealt with heart failure. Poole noted that the treatment may be much more crucial for heart failure patients than for football players who are looking to get ahead.

The prevalence of heart failure in the U.S.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to pump enough blood and oxygen to support other organs in the body. Approximately 5.1 million people have heart failure in the U.S. It is estimated that half of the people who deal with heart failure die within five years of their diagnosis. Not getting enough physical activity poses a high risk of heart failure. However, people with heart failure can alleviate the condition by being physically active.

"It's a big deal because even if you can only increase oxygen delivery by 10 percent, that can be the difference between a patient being wheelchair-bound versus getting up and walking around and interacting with his or her family," Poole said in a statement. 

The positive effects of nitrate
The benefits of the juice are directly tied to the nitrate in it. There is approximately the same amount of nitrate in one bottle of beet juice as there is in 100 grams of spinach.

"When consumed, nitrate is reduced in the mouth by bacteria into nitrite," Ferguson said in a statement. "The nitrite is swallowed again and then reduced to nitric oxide, which is a potent vasodilator. The nitric oxide dilates the blood vessels, similar to turning on a water faucet, and allows blood to go where it needs to go."

Consuming beet juice resulted in a 38 percent increase in blood flow to the skeletal muscles and was much more preferential for the low-oxygen, fast-twitch muscles. Like exercise, a person's cardiovascular health largely depends on lots of oxygen.

"Heart failure is a disease where oxygen delivery to particular tissues, especially working skeletal muscles, is impaired, decreasing the capacity to move the arms or legs and be physically active," Poole said in a statement. "The best therapy for these patients is getting up and moving around. However, that is often difficult. Increasing the oxygen delivery to these muscles through beet root can provide a therapeutic avenue to improve the quality of life for these patients."

The researchers are currently conducting clinical trials on heart failure patients to test the effects of beet juice on them. If the findings are positive, beets could be a beneficial treatment option.

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