What is Alzheimer’s and how does it develop?
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, neurodegenerative condition and at present, unfortunately, it seems to be irreversible. In simpler terms, this condition affects neurons in the brain which are responsible for powering our cognitive functions. Neurons are special cells in the brain which translate signals to the rest of our body via electrical-like signals. In order for us to think clearly, neurones need to be able conduct these signals quickly and efficiently. In Alzheimer’s disease and dementia (which can develop from this condition), sticky protein fragments collect on these all-important neurones and can affect their function and the transmission of these important signals.
At the hands of this destructive process, people with Alzheimer’s disease can often undergo frustrating memory loss, depletion in cognitive functions and in some cases, a distressing change in personality.
Although the exact cause of Alzheimer’s isn’t understood, we know that the risk increases as we get older. Alzheimer’s is also often referred to as Type 3 Diabetes in naturopathic medicine as dietary risk factors are also thought to be associated with the condition. High sugar and low fibre diets in particular, are thought to be notable risk factors1.
Does beetroot have some brain-boosting potential?
The popularity of beetroot has increased in quite recent years and quite rightly so! There has been lots of exciting research around the health benefits of this vibrant vegetable, for example, its potential to enhance exercise performance or in helping to manage blood pressure. But, in recent news, it seems that the health benefits of this earthy root veg don’t seem to end there.
New research has suggested that beetroot may not only benefit the cardiovascular system, but there could also be some brain-boosting potential as it has showed some promise in being protective against Alzheimer’s disease2.
Beetroot has previously been studied in terms of its potential beneficial effects on brain function, and the results were certainly promising3. Whilst we know that beetroot can affect blood flow around the body due to its high nitrate content, (an important ingredient which helps to dilate our blood vessels), it seems that it may also help with blood flow to the brain in particular. This has been shown to help support cognitive functions, and in a study involving elderly people, those who consuming beetroot juice daily saw improvements, when compared to a control group that didn’t have any beetroot3.
However, with some new research now emerging, it seems that rather than just providing a short-lived effect by simply supplying some extra oxygen, beetroot may also help to support some more significant structural improvements in the brain.
How may beetroot help protect us against Alzheimer’s?
Despite beetroot having an impressive nitrate content which allows for an increased delivery of oxygen to the brain, it seems that this may not be the only benefit of this humble vegetable. Actually, by upping your intake, you could be facilitating the delivery of other vital nutrients, which may also be having a significant part to play in these new-found protective qualities.
It has been suggested that a unique antioxidant called betanin in beetroot, (which give this root vegetable its distinctive potent deep purple colour), may be more beneficial than we first thought. It appears that this component of beets may help to block the development of the problem peptide plagues in the brain which are characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.
How should I approach beets going forward?
The research is fairly new, and we’ll eagerly await some more insights in this field, but it is certainly promising in terms of the brain-boosting potential that beetroot may have! As always, we need to be realistic, so some guidance from me when it comes to upping your intake of beetroot is as follows:
Go for wholefood options as much as possible
As always, we suspect that ‘as nature intended’ is the best option. Many of these preliminary trials involved extracts of beetroot juice, and although scientists are looking to develop or discover ‘similar compounds’ that can be used in drug models in a bid to exert some similar effects – if the benefits are coming from foods in the first place, then why change it? Whole beets are nutrient packed, super rich in the vital antioxidants thought to be the key to the healthy benefits they can offer, so eating more is as good advice as any. I particular, like them roasted off in the oven with some fragrant rosemary – delicious! As diets high in sugar and/or processed foods have also been implicated as risk factors for the development of this condition, it makes sense to include as many fresh foods as possible.
Boost your intake with some beetroot juice too
Whilst adding some beetroot to your diet is a great place to start, boosting your intake with some nutrient-rich juice is a good option too. Biotta’s vibrant Beetroot Juice is chock-full of nutrients, is 100% pure juice and is also lacto-fermented which helps to keep the natural sugar content in check. Aim to drink around 100ml daily.
Up your intake of other purple fruit and veggies – Betanin is a compound which comes from a family of antioxidants called betacyanins, and these are present in other brightly coloured foods too. Unsurprisingly, other sources of this important nutrient are also thought to offer a number of promising health benefits4! From your eyes to your blood vessels, these pigments found in a variety of foods from berries to purple carrots are thought to be super beneficial, so upping your intake of a nice array of different fruit and vegetables certainly wouldn’t be a bad idea!
1.Moreira PI. High-sugar diets, type II diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Curr Opin Clin Mutr Metab Care, 2013, 16(4), (440-445).
2.American Chemical Society. "Vegetable compound could have a key role in 'beeting' Alzheimer's disease." Posted online: ScienceDaily, 20 March 2018. .
3.Petrie M, Rejeski WJ and Basu S. Beetroot juice: An ergogenic aid for exercise and the aging brain. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci, 2017, 72(9), (1284-1289).
4.Hui Yi Leong, Pau Loke Show, Miang Hoong Lim et al. Ling Natural red pigments from plants and their health benefits: 2017, Food Reviews International, 34:5, 463-482, DOI: 10.1080/87559129.2017.1326935