Researchers at Indiana University conducted a double-blind, placebo-controlled study to determine if the intake of dietary nitrate from beet juice could enhance muscle function in patients with heart failure. Past studies found that beetroot juice could enhance the athletic performances of healthy runners and cyclists.
For the study, the researchers recruited individuals who have had a heart failure — all of whom had ejection fractions of 45 percent or lower. "Ejection fraction" is a measure of the heart's ability to distribute nutrient-rich blood through the body. A lowered ejection fraction can show symptoms such as labored breathing, unexplained swelling in the hands or feet, fatigue, constipation, diminished peak oxygen uptake, and exercise difficulty — all of which carry serious health implications.
The participants were divided into two groups: one group was given beet juice containing 11.2 millimoles of nitrate, while the second group was given a placebo. After two hours, their muscle function and nitric oxide levels were examined.
Researchers found that those who drank beet juice had increased nitric oxide levels, which was seen in increases in breath nitric oxide ranging from 35 to 50 percent. In addition, their exercise capacity was enhanced as they exhibited improvements in exercise duration, peak power, and peak oxygen uptake. Moreover, they experienced considerable improvements in leg strength. The beet juice also did not have any side effects.
The findings of the study suggested that supplementation with beetroot extracts could help treat exercise intolerance of people with a heart failure and reduced ejection fraction.
Earlier studies have shown that heart failure patients have reduced skeletal muscle strength, velocity, and power. This is because of the increased amounts of reactive oxygen species produced by the failing cardiac muscle. In turn, this cuts the availability of nitric oxide, affecting the ability of the heart muscle to contract.
Beets help the heart as it promotes the bioavailability of nitrates. Beets contain dietary nitrate that is reduced to nitrite when ingested. The acidic conditions in the stomach or other tissues further reduce the nitrite to desirable nitric oxide, which relaxes and widens blood vessels. This, in turn, lowers blood pressure and enhances muscle contractile function.
In addition to enhancing exercise capacity, beets contain antioxidants that prevent oxidative damage and promote overall health. The superfood and its juice are also rich in vitamins C and E, folate, potassium, and manganese. Beets are also packed with healthy dietary fibers that offer anti-cancer effects and slow down glucose absorption. Furthermore, beets are rich in the potent antioxidant and detoxifier glutathione, which helps boost the immune system and neutralize heavy metals and carcinogens. (Related: “Beet” it! A compound found in this superfood may help slow Alzheimer’s.)
Researchers from the U.S. wanted to understand how beet juice affects nitric oxide levels in the airway under normal conditions. In their study, 23 males and 15 females participated — all of whom were healthy and non-smokers. The participants refrained from exercising or eating for one hour before they were asked to drink 70 milliliters (mL) of beet juice. The researchers used an electrochemical analyzer to measure the nitric oxide levels of the participants' exhaled air. They also measured the participants' nitric oxide levels, heart rates, and blood pressures at the beginning of the study, 45 minutes after beet juice intake, and 90 minutes after drinking the juice.
The researchers discovered that the consumption of beet juice significantly increased the nitric oxide in the participants' exhaled air. The study suggested that even one dose of beet juice in a normal setting can significantly increase nitric oxide levels in the airway, and the effect can be sustained for a minimum of 90 minutes.
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