Beetroot juice

I went to down a glass of beetroot juice the other night before dinner, before husband advised “that will keep you awake all night because it has nitrates”.



While you may already be aware of this, this is all news to me, mainly because I used to avoid beetroot and beetroot juice like the plague… but then something weird happens when you get old. You start to eat things like beetroot, olives, onions. And before you know it you’re propped up in a wheelchair covered with a crocheted blanket stinking of fart and deep heat, with people shouting at you like you’re a foreign-language speaker.

Forgive my cynicism. Only had 1 hour of sleep last night.

Anyway, beetroot juice, I’ll keep it brief:

Cardiovascular & metabolic health

  • A single dose (140ml) of beetroot juice improves arterial dilatation through increases in plasma nitric oxide concentrations (in healthy overweight and obese men);
  • Beetroot-enriched bread decreases diastolic blood pressure; (prior to proof-reading, that read “beetroot-enriched breast”)
  • A meta-analysis showed that beetroot juice supplementation was associated with a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure;
  • Beetroot crisp ingestion in fat rats resulted in decreased liver cholesterol level and lower serum glucose levels;
  • In obese people, ingestion of beetroot juice and chips were found to have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects;
  • Bottom line: beetroot juice has a positive effect on the components of metabolic syndrome (blood pressure, cholesterol, sugars, obesity).

Anti-cancer effects

  • Red beetroot contains a specific class of antioxidants collectively named betalains, which have been shown to have anti-carcinogenic and anti-inflammatory potential;
  • For instance, rats whose diets were supplemented with beetroot juice were found to have less abnormal colonic growths, and there was also protection against the ill effects of faecal-contaminated water;
  • Beetroot juice has also been shown to inhibit lung cancer formation and development in rats;
  • Even beetroot food colouring was found to reduce oesophageal cancer growth and promote cancer cell death;
  • Beetroot extract, when combined with certain anti-cancer drugs, can result in increased death of cancer cells (compared with just the anti-cancer drugs alone);
  • Bottom line: there is evidence that beetroot juice has an anti-cancer effect.

Anti-oxidative effects

  • Beetroot juice supplementation for 28 days induced liver enzymes to protect against oxidative stress and to protect against liver damage;
  • Betalains from beetroot can inhibit DNA strand cleavage (protecting cells from nitrosative stress and oxidative stresses);
  • Beetroot is also rich in a whole host of vitamins and minerals which are good for pretty much everything. In addition, they are rich in iron and folate (good for anaemia, reducing birth defects etc);
  • Bottom line: beetroot juice helps guard against the body’s oxidative stresses.

Sports performance

  • Beetroot juice contains nitrates and has therefore received widespread attention as a performance-enhancing agent;
  • It has been shown to positively affect the physiological and sports performance of swimmers, weight lifters, sprinters, and those exercising at altitude;
  • It does this by increasing plasma nitrite concentration, reducing the energy cost of exercise, increasing work tolerance at anaerobic threshold, increasing skeletal muscle flow (especially to fast twitch fibres) and improving reaction times;
  • Interestingly several studies have shown that it does not improve performance in ‘longer lasting’ events, such as middle-distance running (1500m), and cycling (1 hour time trials);
  • Bottom line: beetroot juice serves as a performance enhancer during high intensity, power-related activity; and is perhaps less effective in longer duration, proportionally more aerobic, activities.

Types of beetroot juice

  • There is still much debate as to whether ‘organic’ is better (or just a gimmick)… Not just for beetroot juice, but for a whole host of products;
  • One study I found looked at conventionally produced vs organic beetroot juice, and found that the nutritional content and anti-cancer activity of organic beetroot juice was better than conventionally produced beetroot juice;
  • Bottom line: scant evidence to support organic beetroot juice as being better than conventionally produced juice.

Other considerations

  • Be careful where you get your juice from (no pun intended, given the previous reference to performance enhancement, tee hee);
  • There are quite a few studies looking at ill-health associated with fresh raw beetroot/ juice;
  • Multiple forms of bacteria were found in fresh raw beetroot juice in Mexico, contributing to the endemicity of gastroenteritis in Mexico;
  • Additionally in Finland in 2010, consumption of raw beetroot was strongly associated with the development of gastrointestinal disease (the authors reviewed data from the national outbreak registry). No outbreaks were reported after the Finnish Food Safety Authority advised against serving raw beetroot in canteens;
  • Bottom line: make sure your juice is clean, brother

“Anything that sounds too good to be true usually is”… Beetroot juice’s ‘dark side’

  • Vocal cord tightening ? no definite physiological explanation, thought to be a type of allergic reaction;
  • Dizziness: due to drop in blood pressure;
  • Increased heart rate: also in response to decreased blood pressure;
  • Allergic reactions: a beetroot gene is related to the latex allergen. Weird but true;
  • Fever: we’re not sure whether this is due to the detoxifying effects of beetroot juice, or whether (like the vocal cord tightening) it’s a mild allergy;
  • Liver and kidney disease. Apparently you have to be careful, but that’s standard advice for anything if you’ve got kidney and liver disease;
  • May cause diarrhoea and vomiting;
  • Red stool and urine (beeturia): harmless but potentially scary;
  • Potentiates gallstone and kidney stone formation: contains oxalates.

Bottom line

  • Beetroot juice seems to have a lot of health and performance enhancing benefits, which come with mostly mild and self-limiting side effects;

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Krajka-Kuźniak V, Szaefer H, Ignatowicz E, Adamska T, Baer-Dubowska W. Beetroot juice protects against N-nitrosodiethylamine-induced liver injury in rats. Food Chem Toxicol. 2012 Jun;50(6):2027-33. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2012.03.062. Epub 2012 Mar 24.
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Lechner JF, Wang LS, Rocha CM, Larue B, Henry C, McIntyre CM, Riedl KM, Schwartz SJ, Stoner GD. Drinking water with red beetroot food color antagonizes esophageal carcinogenesis in N-nitrosomethylbenzylamine-treated rats. J Med Food. 2010 Jun;13(3):733-9. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2008.0280.

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