Beetroot juice has a powerful blood pressure lowering action and is now recommended by many doctors to help support blood pressure treatment.
Beetroot juice has a rich, sweet, earthy flavour that you either love or hate. I’m firmly in the love camp and it’s good to know my favourite veg offers significant health benefits in reducing my risk of hypertension.
How beetroot lowers blood pressure
Dark-red beetroot is a rich source of blood-pressure-lowering nutrients such as magnesium and potassium, but the main hypotensive effect comes from its high content of nitrates. These are converted into nitrites by bacteria (Veillonella and Actinomyces species) that live in your mouth, mainly on the surface of your tongue.
When you drink beetroot juice, or chew raw or cooked beetroot, keep each mouthful in your mouth for as long as possible – both to savour the flavour, and to maximise your production of nitrite-rich saliva. When you swallow the beetroot, these nitrites are rapidly absorbed into your circulation where the nitrites, in turn, are converted into nitric oxide.
Nitric oxide acts as a cell signalling molecule which has a powerful relaxing effect on small muscles in blood vessel linings. The resulting blood vessel dilation causes your blood pressure to fall.
In a recent, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, drinking 250ml beetroot juice per day for 4 weeks produced a significant 7.7/5.2 mmHg reduction in average 24-hour ambulatory blood pressure compared with a placebo (beetroot juice from which the nitrates were extracted). That’s the sort of result that pharmaceutical companies invest millions of dollars to achieve! In fact, the blood pressure lowering action of beetroot is at least as good as some prescribed antihypertensive medications.
Drug class versus beetroot juice
Reduction in blood pressure when used alone
|ACE inhibitor||6.8 mmHg|
|Thiazide diuretic||7.3 mmHg|
|Calcium channel blocker||8.4 mmHg|
|Beta blocker||9.3 mmHg|
|Angiotensin II receptor blocker||14.3 mmHg|
Previous research has shown that drinking a single shot of beetroot juice (at least 70ml) can significant lower a raised blood pressure within one hour. The most pronounced blood pressure reduction occurs 3 to 4 hours after ingestion, and lasts for 24 hours. Given that systemic hypertension is recognised by the World Health Organisation as the largest attributable risk factor for mortality worldwide, the protective effect of beetroot is Nutritional Medicine at its best.
If you’re not so keen on drinking the juice, it’s worth knowing that 200g cooked beetroot contains a similar level of nitrates as 500ml beetroot juice. When having a beetroot salad – go large!
Unlike just about every other dark-purple plant food, the deep beetroot colour is not due to polyphenol anthocyanins, but to a red pigment known as betanin. Betanin is water-soluble and high intakes can cause a temporary red discolouration of urine (beeturia) which is harmless but alarming if you’re not expecting it. Researchers now know that betanin itself is an effective antioxidant that may protect circulating cholesterol from oxidation, as well as regulating gene expression.
You can juice your own beetroot, buy beetroot juice concentrates, or take beetroot extracts in capsule form.
I’m off to enjoy a large glass of red!
Image credit: helga_chirk/shutterstock