Beetroot is a popular root vegetable known for its sweet, crimson juice. Also known as beet, this superfood is chock-full nutrients that help keep your heart, blood vessels and kidneys healthy. Research shows that regularly drinking beetroot juice helps control diabetes, lower blood pressure, widen the blood vessels and enhance kidney function.
Beetroot is also highly beneficial to the aging brain. A 2017 study found that drinking beetroot juice before exercise boosts cognitive performance and increases the neural connections in your brain.
Nitrates in beetroot juice boost cognitive health
Past studies show that exercise boosts cognitive health by promoting neuroplasticity, or the ability of neural networks in the brain to change through growth and reorganization. At the same time, there is evidence that drinking beetroot juice increases blood flow to the brain and enhances exercise performance.
With that in mind, researchers from Wake Forest University set out to investigate whether beetroot juice boosts the brain benefits of physical activity. To that end, they recruited 26 adults aged 55 or older who did not exercise regularly. All of the participants had high blood pressure and took up to two medications to help lower their blood pressure.
As per the researchers’ instruction, they engaged in 50 minutes of moderately intense exercise on a treadmill three times a week for a month and a half. Half of the participants drank beetroot juice an hour before each session with 560 milligrams of nitrate while the remaining participants drank a placebo with very little nitrate.
Nitrates are compounds that get converted into nitric oxide in your body. Studies show that nitric oxide can lower blood pressure, increase blood flow to the brain and cause your blood vessels to relax. Nitrate-rich foods include beetroot, celery, spinach, watercress and lettuce.
After a month and a half, the researchers measured the participants’ brain function using MRI. They found that the participants who drank the nitrate-rich beetroot juice before exercising had a structurally stronger somatomotor cortex – a region of the brain that helps control body movement – compared to those who took the placebo.
Physical activity strengthens the activities of the somatomotor cortex, including receiving and processing signals from the muscles. The researchers explained that the nitrates in beetroot juice further strengthen the somatomotor cortex, as its conversion into nitric oxide boosts the delivery of oxygen to the brain.
“Nitric oxide is a really powerful molecule. It goes to the areas of the body which are hypoxic or needing oxygen, and the brain is a heavy feeder of oxygen in your body,” study author W. Jack Rejeski said.
The participants who took the nitrate-rich beetroot juice also showed greater connectivity between their somatomotor complex and their insular cortex, which is a brain region that plays a role in motor control, emotion and other aspects of cognitive function. The researchers noted that this increased brain connectivity was comparable to what’s usually seen in the brains of younger individuals.
In sum, these findings showed that drinking beetroot juice before exercise has a positive, synergistic effect on the aging brain.
“[What] we showed in this brief training study of hypertensive older adults was that, as compared to exercise alone, adding a beetroot juice supplement to exercise resulted in brain connectivity that closely resembles what you see in younger adults,” Rejeski said.
How to make beetroot juice
Drink this energizing beetroot juice before exercise to boost your brain health. This easy recipe includes other potent superfoods in ginger and lemon and helps detoxify your body.
Ingredients for 6 servings:
- 5 medium-size beetroots
- 50 grams ginger root, or 1 tablespoon ginger powder
- 1 lemon
- Wash the beets and ginger under running water and scrub. Peel and cut the beets into small pieces to fit in your juicer. You can peel ginger or keep its skin.
- Feed the ginger then the beetroot into your juicer.
- Add lemon juice. Squeeze the lemon using a citrus reamer or remove its rind and pass the lemon through the juice as well.
- Stir well and drink.
- This beetroot juice is best consumed fresh to get as many nutrients as possible. However, you can also divide it into two servings or small shot-size portions. Store them in airtight glass containers in the fridge for two to three days.
Beetroot is beneficial not only to your heart, blood vessels and kidneys. This nitrate-rich superfood also improves cognition and helps keep your brain healthy as you age. Drink beetroot juice before exercise to boost your brain performance.
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