A daily glass of beetroot juice could reduce harmful inflammation in people with coronary heart disease, according to new research.
Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease, the most common cause of heart attacks and the single biggest killer of both and men and women worldwide.
People with the condition have lower levels of nitric oxide, which is produced naturally by the body and is vital for good health. In addition to its role in regulating blood pressure, it has important anti-inflammatory effects.
“Inflammation is vital to protect the body from injury and infection,” said Dr Asad Shabbir, clinical research fellow at Queen Mary University of London, which led the research. “However, in people with coronary heart disease persistent inflammation can exacerbate the furring of the arteries, making their condition worse and increasing their risk of a heart attack.
“Our research suggests that a daily glass of beetroot juice could be one way to get inorganic nitrate into our diet to help to interrupt harmful inflammation.” The research funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) was presented at the British Cardiovascular Society conference in Manchester.
Researchers investigated whether a daily beetroot juice high in inorganic nitrate would increase levels of nitric oxide, and whether this would affect inflammation.
The team studied 114 healthy volunteers. Of those, 78 received a typhoid vaccine to temporarily increase inflammation in their blood vessels and 36 were given a cream to create a small blister on their skin and produce more localized inflammation.
The volunteers drank 140ml of beetroot juice every morning for seven days. Half drank juice high in nitrate while the other half drank juice that had the nitrate removed.
In the group given the typhoid vaccine, those who drank the nitrate-rich beetroot juice had higher levels of markers of nitric oxide in their blood, urine, and saliva compared with those that consumed the juice with the nitrate removed.
The high nitrate juice also appeared to restore the function of the endothelium, the cells that line the inside of all blood vessels. The endothelium is crucial to keep blood vessels functioning normally, but this is lost in inflammation.
Researchers also found that blisters healed more quickly in the group that drank the nitrate-rich beetroot juice, and the numbers of inflammatory white blood cells in fluid samples taken from their blisters were lower after three days.
The researchers believe the increased levels of nitric oxide helped to speed up how quickly the volunteers were able to recover from inflammation by switching key immune cells from a state that promotes inflammation to a more anti-inflammatory state. They suggest this could have benefits for millions of people with coronary heart disease.
Clinical trials are now being planned to see whether a high nitrate diet produces similar effects to those seen in the healthy volunteers, and whether these can reduce the risk of heart attacks.
“This research suggests that increasing the level of inorganic nitrate in your diet could help to reduce inflammation in your body,” said Prof James Leiper, the BHF associate medical director. “We know that inflammation plays an important role in the development and progression of cardiovascular diseases and therefore interventions that can dampen inflammation have potential as future treatments to tackle this.”
Separate research being presented at the conference reveals that changes in areas of the brain associated with emotion have been identified in people with Takotsubo syndrome, sometimes known as broken heart syndrome. The University of Aberdeen also found changes in brain activity in areas known to control the beating of the heart.