Daily dose of beet juice may help people with high blood pressure

Belarus city dwellers empty their buckets as they help villagers to harvest beets near the village of Zarechie, near Minsk, on October 10, 2011. People get some twenty thousand Belarus rubles (2.5 US dollars equivalent) for one working day of at the field.

You may want to add beets to your apple a day. A new study shows that drinking beet juice may help lower your blood pressure.

People who had high blood pressure and drank a cup of beet juice were seen to decrease their blood pressure by about 10 mm Hg .

High blood pressure or hypertension is a condition where blood is pushing against the walls of the arteries very harshly. It can lead to coronary heart disease, heart failure, stroke, kidney failure and other health problems.

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, about 1 in 3 adults has the condition. It may have no signs or symptoms, so it is important to know your blood pressure number. Normal blood pressure is defined as having a systolic (top number) less than 120 mm Hg and having a diastolic (bottom number) of less than 80 mm Hg. High blood pressure thresholds are when your systolic reaches 140 and above, or your diastolic reaches 90 and above.

The small study involved eight women and seven men who had a systolic blood pressure between 140 to 159 mm HG, did not have any other medical issue and were not taking medication to control their blood pressure. They were told to drink 8 ounces of beet juice or water containing a low amount of nitrate.

Nitrates are a compound that converts into a chemical called nitrite in the body, and then enters the blood as nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a gas that is known to widen blood vessels and help with blood flow. The beet juice contained about 0.2 g of dietary nitrate, or about the amount that would be in a large bowl of lettuce or two beet.

The subjects' blood pressure was monitored for 24 hours. Those that drank the beet juice had lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure than the water group, even after the levels of nitrates in their blood returned to the same level they had been before they drank the juice. The lowered blood pressure was most seen three to six hours after drinking, but some effects were seen up to 24 hours later.

"Our hope is that increasing one's intake of vegetables with a high dietary nitrate content, such as green leafy vegetables or beetroot, might be a lifestyle approach that one could easily employ to improve cardiovascular health," writes lead author Amrita Ahluwalia, a professor of vascular pharmacology at The Barts and The London Medical School in London, in a press release.

Ahluwalia recognizes that it's hard for people to try and eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables a day -- which is about half your plate according to the USDA, or eight or more servings according to the American Heart Association -- but she hopes that by giving people some suggestions on how to improve their health and diet it may make a difference.

"Perhaps we should have a different approach to dietary advice. If one could eat just one [fruit or vegetable] a day, this is one more than nothing and should be viewed as positive," she said.

Dr. William O'Neill, a medical director of the Center for Structural Heart Disease at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit who was not involved in the study, told MedPage Daily that while beet juice is natural and mostly harmless, it might not be safe for people who have renal failure.

"I'm not sure what's going to happen to potassium levels in the bloodstream if they have renal insufficiency," he said.

But, Peter Weissberg, medical director at the British Heart Foundation which funded the research, said to the BBC that the takeaway should be that vegetables are good for you.

"It supports current advice that we should all be eating plenty of green veg, but we need larger studies in patients to determine if nitrate-rich vegetables are effective at lowering blood pressure over the long term," he said.

The study appeared in Hypertension on April 15.