Beets and Brain Health: 10 Years of Great News

Beets and Brain Health
Beets and Brain Health

I’ve never learned anything about beets that didn’t make me want to eat more of them. Today is no exception!

What I just discovered from my latest research on beets and brain health simply blows my mind. Because beets are such a great source of nitrates, researchers often use beet juice to study dietary nitrates’ health benefits.  

So for this post, I decided to profile four studies on this subject. All occurred within the past decade, and all came to similar positive conclusions!

Fresh beet juice: Nature’s delicious answer to age-related cognitive decline!

The Beets and Brain Health Connection: Ten Years, Four Conclusive Studies

Study 1, 2011: Beets and Brain Health in Elderly Adults:                  

One example I just found is a study from Wake Forest University published in the January 1, 2011, Journal of Nitric Oxide. Dr. Tennille D. Presley, Ph.D., and her research team investigated whether dietary nitrates could increase cerebral blood flow(CBF) in adults aged 66 to 81. 

They randomized the study’s enrollees into two groups. Beginning on the first and third days of the trial, one group ate a high-nitrate diet with beetroot juice; the other ate low-nitrate foods. 

Before and after breakfast on the study’s second and fourth days, the researchers measured the enrollees’ blood and plasma nitrate levels.

As the study’s Figure 3 shows, the high-nitrate group’s pre-and post-breakfast measurements far exceeded the low-nitrate dieters’.

The difference was most striking after breakfast. The low-nitraters’ level dropped slightly, but the high-nitraters’ climbed nearly 250 percent from around 300 to almost 800 µM!

The Wake Forest team also learned that the high-nitrate participants’ CBF increased only in the parts of their brains associated with executive functioning.

“Executive functioning” covers several essential life tasks, including:

  • working memory
  • problem-solving
  • focused attention

To some extent, we all depend on these functions to get through our days, but they are vital for helping older adults remain independent.

Study 2, 2015: Beets and Brain Health  – Affirming the CBF Connection: 

This study also investigated dietary nitrates’ impacts on cognitive performance.

Northumbria University psychology lecturer Dr. Emma L Wightman, Ph.D., and her research group published their randomized controlled trial’s findings in the October 1, 2015, Journal of Physiology & Behavior.

First, the trial’s 40 participants drank either 450 ml of beetroot juice (5.5 mmol nitrates) or a placebo (fake beet juice) in three equal portions over 30 minutes.

After a 90-minute interlude, they “performed a selection of cognitive tasks that activate the frontal cortex for 54 minutes.”

The researchers used spectroscopy to measure the participants’ frontal-cortex cerebral blood flow and blood oxygen levels during the testing.

They found that as soon as cognitive testing began, the beet-juice drinkers experienced increased cerebral blood flow. But Figure 3 shows that their cerebral blood flow decreased accordingly as each task became more manageable through the required six repetitions. 

Encouragingly, drinking the beetroot juice correlated with better scoring the standardized serial 3 subtraction test

Study 3, 2019: Beets and Brain Health in Young and Older Adults:

Beet-juices nitrate’s impact on heart and brain function was the subject of a Massey University double-blind, crossover study led by registered nutritionist and Ph.D. candidate Luke Stanaway.

Stanaway and his team enrolled thirteen young adults aged 18 to 30 and eleven older ones between 50 and 70. Each consumed 150 ml of beetroot juice containing 10.5 mmol nitrates or a placebo drink with 1 mmol nitrate.

After a 2 ½ hour wait, all the adults walked on treadmills for 30 minutes and then underwent cognitive performance testing.

Regardless of their age, the beet-juice drinkers had lower blood pressure and better performance on the test, measuring their reaction time to a cognitive task.

The study’s findings, published in the July 22, 2019, Journal of Nutrients, concluded that a single dose of beet juice could reduce blood pressure “and improve aspects of cognitive performance” in both young and older adults.  

Study 4, 2021: Beets and Brain Health – the Nitrate/Oral Bacteria Connection:

The University of Exeter’s Professor Anni Vanhatalo, Ph.D., led a randomized, placebo-controlled crossover study published in the May 2021 Journal of Redox Biology.

In examining how beets and other nitrate-rich foods can impact our oral bacteria community (which also impacts our brain and heart health), the Exeter researchers affirmed the findings from the earlier three studies.

For ten days, their 30 participants consumed two 70ml portions of beetroot juice. One group received juice containing 595 mg of nitrates; the other received a nitrate-depleted version with less than 1 mg of nitrates.

On days 8, 9, and 10, the participants provided saliva samples to measure their oral bacterial communities. They also took computer-based tests to measure the accuracy and speed of their responses when completing five cognitively challenging tasks.

Their saliva tests revealed:

  • higher levels of oral bacteria are scientifically linked to good heart and brain health.
  • decreased levels of the “bad” oral bacteria scientifically linked to inflammation and disease. 
Combining beets and arugula doubles your healthy nitrate intake!!

Based on those results, Vanhatalo told SciNews, “our findings suggest that adding nitrate-rich foods to the diet” [in this case via beetroot juice] “for just ten days can substantially alter the oral microbiome for the better.”

Improving your oral microbiome with beets is one way to enhance your cognitive performance! 

The connection between beets and brain health has been the foundation of many more studies. And as usual, these four have inspired me to develop a few more beet-based menu items for my Fruitive restaurant – and test the recipes at my dinner table!

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