If you follow health-related issues it's hard to miss the news: beetroot juice is the latest "miracle" food in the fight against high blood pressure. A study conducted by the London School of Medicine has revealed that drinking beetroot juice can significantly lower blood pressure. The effect was noted in healthy volunteers within an hour of consuming the juice. What's more, the reduction in blood pressure was even greater after three to four hours and the effect lasted for up to 24 hours.
Beetroot is high in nitrates, the compounds shown to be responsible for the effect. The nitrates are converted into nitrite by bacteria in saliva. The nitrite is then swallowed with the saliva and exerts a powerful effect on body chemistry that reduces blood pressure. The lowest levels of blood pressure in the subjects coincided with the time of highest nitrite levels in their blood.
With drops in blood pressure of around 10 points systolic and 8 points diastolic compared to the control group, and considering the duration of the effect, these are notable results. But before you beat a path to your local supermarket to stock up on beet juice here are a few points to consider:
First, you probably won't find any. Beetroot juice is not commonly stocked by mainstream supermarkets. It can be found in some healthfood stores and ordered via the Internet, although the prices will put many people off. (Don't confuse the liquid in jars of beetroot with the juice. This is merely pickling brine -yuk! - colored by the beets.)
The volume of juice required was relatively large: 500 milliliters, equivalent to 2 extra-large glasses.
The method of consuming the juice in order to convert the nitrates to beneficial nitrite may also put some people off. At the very least, it's not terribly practical on a regular basis; it requires thoroughly mixing the beetroot juice with saliva and swallowing the mixture. After the initial consumption you need to continue producing saliva and swallowing it over the next few hours (yuk, again!).
NOTE: If you are still keen to follow this procedure do be prepared for a shock on your next visit to the toilet!
The subjects of this study were "healthy volunteers". The results do not necessarily predict those that would be experienced by people with high blood pressure Some types of hypertension are extremely resistant to treatment. Testing needs to be conducted on subjects actually afflicted with the condition in order to be more meaningful.
Blood pressure reductions obtained in this way and averaged over 24 hours are minimal. Even the reduction of 10 over 8 at the time of maximum impact would not make a significant difference to those suffering from serious hypertension, especially in light of the cost and practical considerations.
So beetroot juice is obviously not the natural wonder you might mistake it for from all the news. But there is still a very positive point to it . Beetroot shares its abundance of nitrates with leafy green vegetables such as spinach, celery and lettuce, all noted for their positive effect on blood pressure. Celery in particular, most notably in the root where the compounds are highly concentrated, has gained widespread recognition as a potent food that can lower blood pressure.
The study reinforces the advice that a healthy diet high in nitrate-rich foods is an essential part of an overall strategy for reducing high blood pressure. Foods that are high in nitrates include not only the leafy green vegetables and beets mentioned above but also carrots, cabbage, radishes and most other vegetables. Curiously, cured meats are also high in nitrates and may not be as bad for you as previously thought. In fact, there is evidence that they may even help in survival and recovery from heart attacks.
In response to a great marketing opportunity, you may well see beetroot juice appearing soon at your local supermarket, maybe even labeled with something like "the natural wonder that fights high blood pressure". Don't fall for it. No single food, supplement or herb is a high blood pressure beater on its own. You're better off spending your money on a varied diet of quality, whole food high in leafy green vegetables and other foods containing nitrates... including beetroot.
David O'Hara is a researcher and product developer in the field of natural health and blood pressure control. Click here to find out about a genuinely effective natural way to reduce high blood pressure