Beets have been shown to fight inflammation, lower blood pressure and aid detoxification. Studies also suggest they can help lower your risk for heart failure and stroke, and provide powerful benefits for your brain, largely due to their high nitrate content. Your body transforms nitrates into nitric oxide, which enhances oxygenation and has beneficial impacts on your circulatory and immune systems.
Nitric oxide is a soluble gas continually produced from the amino acid L-arginine inside your cells, where it supports endothelial function and protects your mitochondria. Nitric oxide also serves as a signaling or messenger molecule in every cell of your body. Many competitive athletes actually use beet juice for its nitric oxide-boosting benefits. Research shows raw beets may increase stamina during exercise by as much as 16 percent, courtesy of its nitric oxide boost.
Beets May Protect Against Development of Alzheimer’s Disease
Now, research presented at the 2018 American Chemical Society’s meeting in New Orleans claims beets may also be a powerful ally in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease, the most severe and lethal form of dementia. As reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
“First they examined the possible cause of the condition. Although it’s unknown, doctors have previously pinpointed beta-amyloid, a sticky protein that can disrupt communication between the brain cells and neurons. When it clings to metals, such as copper or iron, the beta-amyloid peptides misfold and clump together, causing inflammation and oxidation.
Therefore, the scientists targeted foods known to improve oxygen flow and cognitive functions, including beets. The purple veggie has a compound called betanin that binds to metals, which could prevent the misfold of the peptides. To test their hypothesis, the scientists measured oxidation levels of the beta-amyloid when it was mixed with a betanin mixture, and they found that oxidation decreased by up to 90 percent exposed to the beet compound”.
Preventing Oxidation Stunts Beta-Amyloid Clustering
When clusters of beta-amyloid form, it triggers brain inflammation and oxidation of neurons, and researchers believe this oxidation is what causes irreparable damage to the brain cells. Oxidation is particularly severe when the beta-amyloid is bound to copper. In this experiment, oxidation was largely prevented when betanin from beets were added to the mix.
As noted by coauthor Darrell Cole Cerrato,”We can’t say that betanin stops the misfolding [of amyloid beta] completely, but we can say that it reduces oxidation. Less oxidation could prevent misfolding to a certain degree, perhaps even to the point that it slows the aggregation of beta-amyloid peptides …”
While the researchers hope their finding will lead to the development of better Alzheimer’s drugs, there’s really no reason to wait for such developments, seeing how Alzheimer’s is primarily a disease predicated on diet and lifestyle. Indeed, in his presentation of the findings (see featured video), Cerrato notes that this is yet another piece of information people can use to improve their eating habits and lower their risk of disease:
“In an age where people are trying to look more at what they’re consuming and what they’re eating … this is another source of data people can use … [W]e’re trying to get you to do the same thing your mother was trying to get you to do when you were a kid, which is eat your vegetables … I think this will be a good step forward in looking at how we can preventively treat Alzheimer’s.”
Beets Improve Neuroplasticity
Previous research has shown raw beet juice helps improve neuroplasticity, primarily by increasing blood flow and tissue oxygenation. Nitric oxide, in its capacity as a signalling molecule, also allows your brain cells to communicate with each other better. Importantly, the beets boosted oxygenation of the somatomotor cortex, a brain area that is often affected in the early stages of dementia.
Here, the beet juice was used in combination with exercise, which also improves blood flow and oxygenation on its own. The participants — middle-aged individuals diagnosed with high blood pressure — were given either beet juice or a placebo to drink three times a week, an hour before exercise, for six weeks. Exercise consisted of a 50-minute walk on a treadmill.
The results showed adding beet juice to your exercise regimen can be a simple yet powerful way to augment the benefits of exercise to your brain. Fermented beet juice powder might even be better as it still has the beneficial nutrients, and the carbs have been predigested by fermentation process. As noted by study coauthor W. Jack Rejeski, a health and exercise science professor at Wake Forest University in North Carolina:15,16
“Nitric oxide … goes to the areas of the body which are hypoxic, or needing oxygen, and the brain is a heavy feeder of oxygen in your body … [W]hat we showed in this brief training study … was that, as compared to exercise alone, adding a beet root juice supplement to exercise resulted in brain connectivity that closely resembles what you see in younger adults.”
Two caveats are worthy of mention. First, avoid using harsh mouthwashes, as this will reduce the conversion of nitric oxide by killing off necessary microbes. Also avoid fluoridated water, as fluoride converts nitric oxide into harmful nitric acid. Fluoride also has other brain-harming influences, and has been shown to impair neurological functioning all on its own. It is, after all, classified as a neurotoxin.