Transcript: Oxygenating Blood with Nitrate-Rich Vegetables
It’s great that we can improve athletic performance eating a few beets, but so what if you run 5% faster? It can be a fun experiment to eat a can of beets and maybe shave a minute off your 5K time, but these are the people who could really benefit from a more efficient use of oxygen: those suffering from emphysema. Yeah, young healthy adults eating greens and beets can swim, run, and cycle faster and farther, but what about those who get out of breath just walking up the stairs? Do nitrate-rich vegetables work where it counts? Yes, significantly extended time on the treadmill after two shots of beet juice.
It’s great that beet juice can decrease blood pressure in young healthy adults, but what about in those who really need it: older, overweight subjects? Just one shot of beet juice a day versus berry juice as a control, and in a few weeks, a significant drop in blood pressure; but within just a few days after stopping—after three weeks of beet-ing themselves up—blood pressure went back up. So, we have to eat our vegetables, and keep eating our vegetables.
Why did it take until 2015 to publish a study on lowering blood pressure in people with high blood pressure? You’d think that’d be the first group to try it on. Who’s going to fund it, though—Big Beet? Blood pressure medications rake in more than $10 billion a year. You can’t make billions on beets. But that’s why we have charities like the British Heart Foundation, which funded a study to give folks with high blood pressure a cup of beet juice a day for four weeks. After all, high blood pressure may be the #1 risk factor for premature death in the world. In ten years, it could affect nearly one in three adults on the planet. But put them on beet juice, and blood pressures drop and kept dropping, until it was stopped after a month. With so many people with high blood pressure even despite treatment, an additional strategy, based on the intake of nitrate-rich vegetables, may prove to be both cost-effective, affordable, and favorable for a public health approach to hypertension.
What about those with peripheral artery disease? Tens of millions with atherosclerotic clogs impairing blood flow to their legs, which can cause a cramping pain in the calves, called claudication, due to lack of blood flow through the blocked arteries, severely limiting one’s ability to even just walk around. But just drink some beet juice and walk 18% longer. This is really neat—I’ve never seen this before. They measured the actual oxygenation of their blood within their calf muscle. Placebo’s in white; beet is in black, showing how they were able to maintain more oxygen in their muscles with just vegetables.
The nitric oxide from vegetable nitrates not only improves oxygen efficiency, but also oxygen delivery by vasodilating blood vessels, opening up arteries so there’s more blood flow. I’m surprised beet juice companies aren’t trying to position themselves as veggie Viagra; it could certainly explain why those eating more veggies have such improved sexual function, though this study was just a snapshot in time. So, you can’t tell which came first. However, it seems more reasonable that low fruit and vegetable consumption contributes to erectile dysfunction, rather than the other way around.
What about the most important organ, the brain? Poor cerebral perfusion—lack of blood flow and oxygen in the brain—is associated with cognitive decline and dementia, and they showed that the nitrate in vegetables may be beneficial in treating age-related cognitive decline. They showed a direct effect of dietary nitrate on cerebral blood flow within the frontal lobes, the areas particularly compromised by aging. This is a critical brain area for so-called executive function, basic tasks, and problem-solving important for day-to-day functioning. The nitrite from nitrate has been shown not only to increase blood flow to certain areas of the body, but also acts preferentially in low oxygen conditions, allowing it to increase blood flow precisely in the areas where it is needed most. And, that’s what they found in the brain: increased blood flow to the at-risk areas of the aging brain. And, the only side effects of beet-ing your brains out? A little extra color in your life.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.
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