A clinical trial has found that a daily dose of beetroot juice can boost exercise ability in older people with heart failure.
Heart failure is a chronic medical condition where the heart muscle is weakened and therefore struggles with its job of pumping blood and oxygen around the body. Difficulty with physical activity and shortness of breath with minimal exertion are common problems in heart failure, which can severely affect a person’s quality of life. Endurance exercise can go some way in helping to address the reduced aerobic capacity seen in heart failure but such activities can be hard to do. Beetroot juice has emerged as a possible supplement in managing reduced exercise capacity in heart failure.
The interest in beetroot juice comes from the presence of naturally occurring nitrates in beetroot. Nitrates are found in many vegetables but beetroot is one of the highest sources. The research interest in dietary nitrates is because they can be converted to nitric oxide by our body. Nitric oxide is a potent vasodilator, meaning it will improve blood flow and oxygen delivery to working muscles. As a bonus, it also improves the action of insulin and has a role to play in the immune system.
The vascular effects of beetroot juice point to it having a potential benefit in people suffering from heart problems. Researchers investigated how it performs in people with heart failure and poor exercise tolerance.
Researchers invited 19 people who suffered from heart failure to take part in the study. The average age of the participants was 69 years. Each person was given 70 mL of a commercial beetroot juice ‘shot’ to be taken daily for a week. They also performed the study when taking a placebo beetroot juice shot with the nitrates removed. The participants were not told which beetroot juice shot was the ‘active’ treatment.
To assess their fitness, volunteers cycled to exhaustion with a fixed workload in a controlled environment. The standout finding from the study was that a daily dose of beetroot juice improved aerobic endurance by an impressive 24% in just one week. They also significantly reduced their resting systolic blood pressure.
Such substantial changes for a simple intervention are rare. The results from this study do not stand in isolation.
Beetroot juice is now a very popular sports nutrition supplement and is well supported by scientific evidence to have a small benefit on exercise endurance, with greater benefits seen the more untrained a person is.
This was only a small clinical trial but adds to the growing clinical interest in using beetroot juice as a natural, cheap and safe supplement in people with heart failure.