Doctors love scientific explanations for how things work. That is why they are quick to prescribe medications for a variety of conditions. FDA approval provides reassuring evidence of effectiveness.
Dietary supplements, herbs and home remedies rarely have scientific support and usually lack an explanation for the way they work. That may be why it is hard for physicians to recommend such treatments.
There is, however, a growing body of scientific research supporting the use of beet juice to lower high blood pressure. Investigators even have a mechanism to explain how beetroot (Beta vulgaris) works to help control hypertension (Hypertension, online April 15, 2013).
Scientists knew that a natural compound called nitrite in the bloodstream helps blood vessels relax and lowers blood pressure. But how? And does this work in people with hypertension as well?
To find out, they did research in rats that develop hypertension spontaneously. They identified an enzyme called xanthine oxidoreductase (XOR) in the red blood cells called erythrocytes. This enzyme converts nitrate to nitrite, which is then turned into nitric oxide. This is the compound that relaxes vessel walls and reduces blood pressure.
Figuring out how to control blood pressure in rats is interesting, but doesn’t have much practical application. So the investigators ran a test in Londoners with hypertension. Their systolic pressure was between 140 and 159, while their diastolic pressure was between 90 and 99. These 15 volunteers were given a cup (250 ml) of beet juice to drink as a dietary source of nitrate. In the placebo arm, the beverage was low-nitrate water.
The results were encouraging. Just one cup of beet juice lowered systolic pressure an average of 11 points between three and six hours later. Even after 24 hours, the blood pressure of participants who had consumed beet juice was still a bit lower than baseline. Diastolic blood pressure fell about 9 points, and was back to baseline at 24 hours.
This kind of reduction in blood pressure is as good as the results usually achieved with medication. Many drugs for hypertension only lower blood pressure 4 or 5 points on average.
One reader reported his experience with beets:
“I have high blood pressure and cannot take medication. So I decided to try beet root juice. A small amount every day brings my blood pressure down quickly and it stays that way for the whole day.
“I found it too expensive to buy continually so I went out and bought a juicer. Now I juice one beet a day in with other leafy green vegetables. I am telling you, the beet juice works!
“My blood pressure now when I check it is always on the low side. You won’t regret drinking beet juice, but you need to drink it EVERY day for it to continue to work.”
Leafy green vegetables are also high in nitrate. That may explain why the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet has been proven so effective. We have more information about the DASH diet and other foods such as chocolate, grape juice and pomegranate for hypertension in our Guide to Blood Pressure Treatment.
Now that there is science to support food as medicine, doctors may be more willing to to tell their patients “Beets lower blood pressure.”