A widely used anti-cancer chemotherapy drug called doxorubicin has one big drawback. It can be toxic to the heart. When patients have to take large doses for long periods they risk damaging the heart muscle permanently.
Now, scientists at Virginia Commonwealth University have found that nitrates that occur naturally in foods such as spinach, beets and leafy green vegetables may protect the heart muscle. The research was carried out in mice and will need to be repeated in human studies.
In the meantime, however, cancer patients taking doxorubicin may find that drinking beet juice and eating lots of spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables is an inexpensive and potentially helpful adjunct to their chemotherapy.
This isn’t the first time that nitrates have been found to have health benefits. There is growing evidence that the nitric oxide formed from eating beets or drinking beet juice can also lower blood pressure and be good for the brain. More information here and here.
[Journal of the American College of Cardiology, online May 16, 2011]