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Beetroot Juice before Exercise Keeps Aging Brain Sharp

Drinking a beetroot juice before exercise makes the aging brain perform more efficiently. Image credit: Ken Bennett, Wake Forest University.

According to a study published recently in the Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, drinking a beetroot juice before exercise makes the brain of older adults perform more efficiently, mirroring the operations of a younger brain.

“Exercise has positive neuroplastic effects on the aging brain. It has also been shown that ingestion of beetroot juice increases blood flow to the brain and enhances exercise performance,” the study authors said.

“We examined whether there are synergistic effects of beetroot juice and exercise on neuroplasticity in the aging brain.”

The study included 26 men and women age 55 and older who did not exercise, had high blood pressure, and took no more than two medications for high blood pressure.

Three times a week for six weeks, they drank a beetroot juice supplement called ‘Beet-It Sport Shot’ one hour before a moderately intense, 50-min walk on a treadmill.

Half the participants received ‘Beet-It’ containing 560 mg of nitrate; the others received a placebo ‘Beet-It’ with very little nitrate.

Beets contain a high level of dietary nitrate, which is converted to nitrite and then nitric oxide when consumed.

Nitric oxide increases blood flow in the body, and multiple studies have shown it can improve exercise performance in people of various ages.

“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,” said study co-author W. Jack Rejeski, a Thurman D. Kitchin professor in health and exercise science in the Departments of Psychology and Medicine at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

The consistency of the somatomotor community across participants; there is increased somatomotor community consistency following exercise in the beetroot juice (BRJ) group; this community included the primary motor cortex, somatosensory cortex, and midline supplementary motor regions; both the upper coronal images and lower axial images show the somatomotor community. Image credit: Petrie et al, doi: 10.1093/gerona/glw219.

When you exercise, the brain’s somatomotor cortex, which processes information from the muscles, sorts out the cues coming in from the body. Exercise should strengthen the somatomotor cortex.

So, combining beetroot juice with exercise delivers even more oxygen to the brain and creates an excellent environment for strengthening the somatomotor cortex.

Post-exercise analysis showed that, although the study groups has similar levels of nitrate and nitrite in the blood before drinking the juice, the beetroot juice group had much higher levels of nitrate and nitrite than the placebo group after exercise.

“We knew, going in, that a number of studies had shown that exercise has positive effects on the brain,” Prof. Rejeski said.

“But what we showed in this 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.”

“This is the first experiment to test the combined effects of exercise and beetroot juice on functional brain networks in the motor cortex and secondary connections between the motor cortex and the insula, which support mobility,” he added.

Meredith Petrie et al. Beet Root Juice: An Ergogenic Aid for Exercise and the Aging Brain. Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, published online November 9, 2016; doi: 10.1093/gerona/glw219


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