When a team of researchers discovered that nitrates present in beets improve an athlete’s muscle performance, it was only natural for them to become curious as to what else these powerful nitrates could do. During aerobic exercise, the nitrates convert to nitric oxide, providing benefits to blood pressure and cardiovascular health.
Most recently, these same researchers determined that the nitrates also benefit patients with heart failure. Heart failure is the gradual loss of pumping capacity, which results in fatigue and shortness of breath. This means that the everyday activities that were once simple will become increasingly difficult to accomplish. “Activities of daily living are power-based,” notes senior study author Dr. Linda R. Peterson. She adds, “we want to help make people more powerful because power is such an important predictor of how well people do, whether they have heart failure, cancer or other conditions.”
A small study group of patients showed a 13% increase in power in muscles that extend the knee just two hours after drinking beet juice. Dr. Andrew R. Coggan, assistant professor of radiology at the Washington University School of Medicine, compares the “beet-juice effect” to Popeye eating his spinach. In fact, he says, “the magnitude of this improvement is comparable to that seen in heart patients who have done 2-3 months of resistance training.”
The benefits of nitrates are continuing to be studied. Next, the team would like to study the effects of nitrates in older populations. Dr. Coggan hopes that his future research will provide a significant benefit to older individuals.