Beetroot lowers blood pressure

Nitric oxide in beetroot lowers blood pressure


The recipe for a long healthy life? Is might be celery and beetroot! They're rich in nitrates which help lower blood pressure

  • 30% is the proportion of people in England who have high blood pressure
  • Eat foods rich in nitrates, which your body eventually turns into nitric acid
  • Include beetroot, celery, lettuce, rocket, spinach, celeriac and parsley
  • Nitric oxide tells your blood vessels to expand and lowers blood pressure

Nitric oxide is a gas produced naturally by the body and carried in the blood. It tells your blood vessels to expand, so lowering blood pressure. That's why beetroot in particular is so good for blood pressure — the body converts the nitrites in this veg into nitric oxide.

Researchers have since found nitric oxide does a lot more and has many health benefits, including helping you to sleep and fight off infections.

And now it turns out we have large, totally unexpected stores of it under our skin, and that our blood cells don't work properly without it. It's vital for healthy cells as it binds very easily with other compounds such as proteins, enzymes and genes. When it gets loaded on to red blood cells it 'sticks' to the protein haemoglobin, which carries the oxygen.

This could lead to a total rethink on safe sun advice, the way heart patients are treated, and even how blood transfusions are performed.

It could also mean that boosting our nitric oxide levels — by eating more veg such as beetroot and celery, or exercising more — could help prevent diseases including diabetes, alzheimer's and cancer.

Until a few years ago, no one knew that blood cells even carried nitric oxide. Now we realise that it plays a vital role in ensuring cells get the oxygen they need, as research at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland in the U.S. has found.

'Cardiologists have always assumed that if your blood was carrying a normal amount of oxygen, the gas would automatically get into cells,' Jonathan Stamler, the lead researcher and a professor of medicine, told Good Health. 'Now it looks like that was wrong.

'What we've discovered is that the oxygen carried in blood cells can't be delivered into the body's cells unless it comes with nitric oxide. 'When you put red blood cells and blood vessels together in the lab, the blood vessels close up. We eventually worked out that the cells were missing nitric oxide. It was lost when you took the blood cells out of the body.'

The thinking is that a lack of the gas could cause problems generally linked to poor blood flow, such as heart attack, heart failure, stroke, damage to the kidneys and poor circulation in the legs.

But this is not the only exciting discovery...


We've known for years that vitamin D is vital for strong bones and teeth. More recently, research has suggested it is also linked to a lower risk of heart disease.

But it may be that it's not the vitamin that's good for the heart. According to research from Edinburgh University, it's nitric oxide.

A team headed by Professor Richard Weller, a senior lecturer in dermatology, made the completely unexpected discovery that our skin contains large stores of nitric oxide which are released into the blood when exposed to the UVA rays in sunlight. To get vitamin D you need UVB, the burning rays linked to cancer.

Professor Weller believes vitamin D's reputation for heart protection has been piggy-backing on the benefits of UVA. 'The result is that a fairly short sun exposure can lower your blood pressure,' he says.

Professor Weller's research, which has so far been carried out on animals, has put him on a collision course with conventional wisdom — and colleagues.

'I'm a dermatologist,' he says. 'I spend my days seeing people with skin cancer and telling them to be careful of the sun. But now I believe that protecting against heart disease and stroke trumps the risk of skin cancer. Leaving aside malignant melanoma, skin cancer doesn't actually increase your overall risk of dying. Although it is more common than all the other cancers put together, it can be effectively treated by cutting it out.

'Heart disease and stroke, on the other hand, can kill you. Deaths from heart disease are 100 times higher than deaths from skin cancer.'

He, like Professor Stamler, stresses that further studies on humans are needed to clarify what is the optimum sun exposure to recharge and release the skin's stored nitric oxide, and whether artificial UV could be safe and beneficial.

'Don't shun the sun,' he adds. 'Enjoy it — but without getting burnt.'


The best way to keep your supplies topped up is through diet, especially foods rich in nitrates, which your body turns into nitric acid with the help of bacteria found in your saliva.

These include beetroot (particularly rich in nitrates), along with celery, lettuce, rocket, spinach, celeriac and parsley.

Our bodies can also make nitric oxide from an amino acid called L-arginine, found in nuts, meat, fruits, dairy products, chocolate and raisins.

We should also avoid things that can cut down our supply of nitric oxide, such as antibacterial mouthwashes and the long-term use of heartburn drugs known as PPIs (proton pump inhibitors).

We also make nitric oxide when we exercise, because it stimulates cells in the lining of our blood vessels to make more from L-arginine.

But the real message of all the new discoveries, according to Professor Feelisch, is that we ignore at our peril the important role of the world around us in keeping us healthy.

'Nitric oxide has been vital for the survival of animals for hundreds of millions of years,' he says. 'We have evolved to get it from our food and to make more of it when we exercise or go out in the sun.

'But in the past 150 years we have adopted a way of living that cuts the amount of nitric oxide we can get from those sources. Now we are paying a price in the rise of obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases.'

Katharine Jenner, CEO of Charity Blood Pressure UK says: “Beetroot has long been studied due to it’s apparent blood pressure lowering effects, and although you need to eat it in large quantities, it does seem to have genuine health benefits.  Certainly there is no harm in eating lots of beetroot, celery and spinach, as well as all other fruits and vegetables – but more importantly – make sure you eat them as part of a low salt diet!”

For the full article on the Daily Mail, including research findings, click here: