Beetroot juice, and specifically the nitrate it contains, has been long touted for its heart healthy benefits and potential for improving sports performance. Now, researchers from Kansas State University in the US have suggested that supplementation with nitrate from beetroot could help both athletes and people with heart conditions.
Writing in the Journal of Nitric Oxide, Biology and Chemistry, the team use a rat model to provide the basis for how beetroot juice could benefit athletes such as football players by preferentially increasing blood flow to fast-twitch muscle fibres that are used for for explosive running and movement.
In addition to improving athletic performance, the research team – led by David Poole – suggestthat beetroot juice can help to improve the quality of life for heart failure patients, adding that for every athlete that could see a performance boost, there are hundreds or thousands of heart failure patients that could see a benefit.
"It's a big deal because even if you can only increase oxygen delivery by 10%, that can be the difference between a patient being wheelchair-bound versus getting up and walking around and interacting with his or her family,” said Poole.
Poole and his team randomly assigned 12 rats to receive either beetroot juice or water for five days. The team then measured the effects on blood flow – finding that the nitrate from beetroot juice resulted in a 38% higher blood flow to the skeletal muscles during exercise and was preferential to the less-oxygenated, fast-twitch muscles.
The team noted that the preferential flow of oxygen rich blood to active fast twitch muscles is the mechanistic basis for the observations that beetroot juice can boost athletic performance.
However the team also suggested that the mechanism could be used to aid those with disabilities and heart conditions. They explained that much of human muscle is made up of such ‘fast-twitch’ fibres, and that there is an “increased reliance on these fibres in diseased states (e.g. heart failure)”
As a result, nitric oxide supplementation via beetroot juice “may constitute a novel and powerful “bench-to-bedside” therapeutic modality,” wrote the team.
"Heart failure is a disease where oxygen delivery to particular tissues, especially working skeletal muscles, is impaired, decreasing the capacity to move the arms or legs and be physically active," Poole added. "The best therapy for these patients is getting up and moving around. However, that is often difficult.”
“Increasing the oxygen delivery to these muscles through beetroot can provide a therapeutic avenue to improve the quality of life for these patients."
Clinical trials are currently underway to assess the potential for beetroot juice in benefiting those with heart failure, the team noted.
Source: Nitric Oxide
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.niox.2014.09.157
"Microvascular oxygen pressures in muscles comprised of different fiber types: Impact of dietary nitrate supplementation"
Authors: Scott K. Ferguson, Clark T. Holdsworth, et al