It might not be everyone's cup of tea, but beetroot juice has been shown to offer a number of health benefits relating to blood flow. These have included reducing blood pressure, improving running performance and boosting blood flow to the brain. New research has built on this by looking at how it can improve brain performance in older adults, finding that a swig of beetroot supplement before exercise can make it mirror the activity of a younger brain.
Beets are a good source of nitrate, which the body turns into nitric oxide when consumed, increasing blood flow and improving exercise performance. Exercise itself, meanwhile is thought to strengthen the brain's somatomotor cortex, the region responsible for processing information coming from the muscles. In what they say is the first experiment of its kind, researchers at Wake Forest University investigated what happens to the brain's networks in older folks when these factors combine.
The team recruited 26 men and women. The subjects did not exercise and had high blood pressure, but took no more than two medications for that condition. Over a period of six weeks, three times a week they drank the beetroot juice Beet-It Sport Shot and then took a 50-minute walk on a treadmill one hour later.
While half of the subjects had the regular Beet-It Sport Shot containing 560 mg of nitrate, the others received a placebo version with very little nitrate. Analysis following the experiment examined the functional brain networks in the motor cortex and those between the motor cortex and insula, which supports mobility.
The team says those receiving the supplement unsurprisingly had much higher levels of nitrate, but that consuming the juice prior to exercise created an excellent environment for strengthening of the motor cortex. The upshot of that was, that when examining the brain networks with MRI, the team found they were significantly enhanced and mirrored that of a younger brain.
"We knew, going in, that a number of studies had shown that exercise has positive effects on the brain," said W. Jack Rejeski, study co-author. "But what we showed in this brief training study of hypertensive older adults was that, as compared to exercise alone, adding a beet root juice supplement to exercise resulted in brain connectivity that closely resembles what you see in younger adults."
The scientists note that further research is needed to build on these findings, but the results do suggest that diet could be vitally important as we age, as a way of keeping our brain healthy and functioning properly.
The research paper was published in the Journals of Gerontology.
Source: Wake Forest University