Beetroot juice under the microscope to find link to increasing exercise capacity, reducing obesity
Dr Sverdlov and Dr Ngo study how beetroot nitrates improve the body’s capacity to exercise. (ABC Newcastle: Robert Virtue)
Scientists are studying the effects that beetroot juice has on the body and if consuming the drink increases exercise performance, especially among obese people.
The research is led by Dr Aaron Sverdlov, an associate professor of cardiology with the Hunter Medical Research Institute in Newcastle, and Dr Doan Ngo, an associate professor of cardiovascular research at the University of Newcastle.
Dr Sverdlov said they are trying to learn more about the health-boosting properties of beetroot juice.
“There has been some evidence that beetroot juice may be beneficial and the evidence stems from the abundance of nitrate within the beetroot juice which, in the body, is metabolised into a beneficial substance called nitric oxide,” he said.
“[Nitric oxide] improves the blood flow in the vessels, it improves the health of the lining of the vessels, and it’s thought to improve cardiovascular health overall.
“We’re looking to see if it can improve exercise performance in the general population who are overweight.”
Dr Ngo said the juice had also been found to improve oxygen intake into the muscles.
“We are hoping to use beetroot juice as an easy alternative, along with the patient’s normal dietary intake, to help boost the oxygen consumption in the muscles,” she said.
“[That will] therefore improve exercise and promote exercise duration for patients with obesity, therefore helping them to lose weight and promote healthy cardio-respiratory fitness.”
Candidates’ exercise capacity tested
Study participants will have their oxygen capacity during exercise tested. (ABC Newcastle: Robert Virtue)
A total of 50 people will be recruited into the study.
All participants will drink 70 millilitres of beetroot juice each day for eight weeks.
Twenty-five candidates will consume a specially-designed, concentrated beetroot juice, while the other 25 will consume a placebo which has had the nitrate extracted from it.
Neither group will know which version they are consuming.
“The participants will keep a diary of how they feel, how much they exercise, and what else they’ve eaten or drunk,” Dr Sverdlov said.
“In terms of what we will do to assess the effects — it’s called a VO2 max test. Essentially, it’s a fancy way of assessing cardiac fitness.
“You ride a stationary bike whilst your heart rate, oxygen consumption, and exchange of oxygen for carbon dioxide in the lungs is measured. It is an objective way of measuring exercise fitness.
“We’ll do a simple needle biopsy of the muscle and work out the energy consumption of the cell itself before and after the eight weeks of beetroot juice supplementation.
“We’re hoping to see the beneficial effects.”
Study participants will wither be given a nitrate-rich beetroot juice, or a placebo with the compound stripped out of it. (ABC Newcastle: Robert Virtue)
Not a ‘magic bullet’
Dr Ngo said the study could shed light on how beetroot juice can help people who are overweight.
“We’re really optimistic that it will be an easy choice for patients to help boost their exercise capacity, as well as to improve their cardio-respiratory fitness, and therefore help in the reduction of weight loss to fight the obesity epidemic,” she said.
But Dr Sverdlov said even if the study confirmed their hypothesis that beetroot juice boosted cardiovascular health and exercise capacity, it will not be a ‘magic bullet’ solution to reducing obesity.
“It’s very hard to sustain a very strict diet over a long period of time; but to drink a glass of juice per day we’re hoping it’s going to be a much easier, long-term sustainable option for people,” he said.