Nitrates are the active ingredient in beet juice, as well as spinach and other leafy vegetables, including arugula and celery. During exercise, these nitrates are converted into nitric oxide, with various beneficial effects on blood pressure and cardiovascular health. The benefits are most commonly found during aerobic exercise – that is, when breathing is increased to bring more oxygen into the body, for example, in walking, cycling or swimming. The researchers hypothesized that heart failure patients may benefit in similar ways to athletes, since heart failure is the gradual loss of pumping capacity. When the heart is weak, fatigue and shortness of breath follow, making everyday activity difficult.
Working with a small study group of only nine patients, the research team gave each of them a beet juice treatment. The patients acted as their own control group; everyone received what appeared to be the same beet juice, the difference being that the nitrate content had been removed from some, making it a placebo beet juice. Between the trial sessions, there was a 1-2-week break. Neither those taking part in the trial nor the research team knew the order in which patients received the treatment beet juice and placebo beet juice. Two hours after drinking the juice, patients who consumed the beet juice containing nitrates showed a 13% increase in power in muscles.
One problem in aging is the muscles get weaker, slower and less powerful. Beyond a certain age, people lose about 1% per year of their muscle function, If we can boost muscle power like we did in this study, that could provide a significant benefit to older individuals.