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, foods, 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.
How Do Beets Lower Blood Pressure?
There is, however, a growing body of scientific research demonstrating that beets lower 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?
Rat Research Reveals the Mechanism:
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.
One Cup of Beet Juice Lowered Blood Pressure in People:
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.”
Beets, Greens and the DASH Diet:
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.
Recent Research Showing Beets Lower Blood Pressure:
This research established fairly conclusively that beetroot juice can lower blood pressure. Since 2013, several studies have answered a few questions. One meta-analysis found that younger people (under 65 years old) have a more robust blood pressure response to a daily cup of beet juice (Nitric Oxide, May 1, 2015). A British study tested beetroot juice in people with hypertension and found it lowered clinic, home and ambulatory blood pressure (Hypertension, Feb. 2015).
Another clinical trial compared raw beet juice to cooked beets (Journal of Human Hypertension, Oct. 2016). The investigators found that both a cup of raw beet juice and about 8 ounces (250 g) of cooked beets daily lowered blood pressure. The raw beet juice was more effective, however, at lowering several markers of inflammation as well as cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. Finally, a study determined that beet juice was effective for lowering blood pressure in people whose hypertension was uncontrolled (Irish Journal of Medical Science, online Jan. 3, 2017). Two weeks of daily treatment with beetroot juice had little if any impact on people whose blood pressure was already well controlled.
With all of this research to support food as medicine, doctors may be more willing to recommend to their patients, “beets lower blood pressure.” Other dietary components that may be worth adding to the diet to keep blood pressure down include potassium, magnesium, L-arginine and cocoa flavonoids (British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, Jan. 2017).