Athletes have long been using beet juice for endurance enhancement, and many will swear it gives them the competitive edge. Presumably it improves blood and oxygen supply to the muscles by increasing circulating levels of nitric oxide, a molecule that relaxes and widens blood vessels and affects how efficiently cells use oxygen. Several studies have investigated such claims and found, indeed, performance enhancing effects, as well as measurable increases in the levels of nitric oxide, were demonstrated.
A recent study published in the Journal of American College of Cardiology (Heart Failure) scientifically confirmed the beneficial and performance enhancing effects of beet juice in patients with congestive heart failure.
Researchers found in this particular group of patients, that supplementing a daily bottle of beet juice over a one week period of time resulted in an astonishing 24% improvement in exercise endurance. Furthermore, there was also a significant reduction of systolic blood pressure (120/80) by 13 mm Hg in the beet juice consuming group.
It is important to note, however, that the population of this research group was relatively small. The study participants were also all patients with a very specific type of congestive heart failure, in which the pump function of the heart is preserved, whereas patients with damaged hearts from heart attacks and other insults that have resulted in damage, do not have preserved pumping function of their hearts. Such patients without preserved pumping function have limited exercise capacity and shortness of breath with low levels of activity, leading to a poor quality of life.
The results of this research, which were derived from a rigorous scientific trial in a well-respected journal, provide further evidence that there is an abundance of functional foods, especially if left unaltered, which can be powerful medicine.
Similarly, another well-designed clinical trial we discussed in a separate blog post, resulted in a 30% reduction of bad cardiovascular outcomes through Mediterranean diet, olive oil, and nuts.
These are promising findings of simple, yet powerful, dietary interventions, essentially free of side effects, which should be incorporated into health maintenance and disease management. So... go ahead, give it a try, and don't worry- you can say "beet juice, beet juice, beet juice," three times without any concerns of summoning a crusty and mischievous ghost.