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Beeting blood pressure

Monty Python famously asked the question, “What have the Romans ever done for us, hey?” By the end of the skit the question has become, “All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”, to which the character Xerxes replies, “Brought peace?” If they had really wanted to the Pythons could also have added to their litany, “Cultivated the beet”…because it is true that the Romans were the first society to farm beet and that has been another great boon for posterity, possibly not on the scale of education, sanitation, and the aqueduct but pretty close. Beets are more than a decorative addition to a salad, many studies have shown how healthy they are and in fact a new study has shown that beetroot juice can lower blood pressure.

When you think of beet you normally think of the root, in fact it is a plant often referred to as “beetroot”. However, beets are a member of the same family as Swiss Chard and like chard the leaves are perfectly edible and a healthy option. Attached to the beet leaves is a round or oblong root, which is typically a reddish-purple colour due to the health promoting pigments it contains but beets do also come in varieties that feature white or yellow roots. Today though we are considering the purple beet root that you know and love and the juice that can be made from it.

For the new study researchers gathered people aged 18-85 who were taking medication for their high blood pressure but who had not yet reached their target blood pressure. The subjects were split into two groups; one group had 250ml of beetroot juice daily while the other group had a similar glass except that the nitrate had been removed from the juice.

During the four weeks of the trial the subjects experienced a drop in blood pressure of an average 8/4, so as an example, going from 140/90 to 132/86. In the two weeks after they stopped taking the juice the blood pressure returned to its normal levels. This did not occur in the group who took the nitrate depleted juice.

Nitrate is the critical ingredient in beetroot juice in this regard because it increases the levels of the gas nitric oxide in circulation and this in turn keeps blood vessels open (dilates them) which reduces blood pressure. The study also showed that people given regular beetroot juice had a 20 per cent improvement in blood vessel dilation capacity and a 10 per cent reduction in arterial stiffness.

This effect is equivalent to what is achieved by many anti-hypertensive drugs. You should not attempt to treat high blood pressure by yourself but this study does suggest that dietary nitrate sources, such as beet and other leafy green vegetables, should be an automatic intervention in cases of high blood pressures.

It goes to show, you can’t beat the beet…or as the Romans would have said, “Vos can non percutere beet”.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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