The memory and mind-destroying disease known as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are often seen as terrifying consequences of aging that strike out of the blue — and supposedly little can be done to prevent or treat these horrible conditions. But while Big Pharma has consistently failed to come up with drugs that halt or reverse cognitive decline, at least for long, research into natural therapies continues to provide tangible evidence that much can be done to fight dementia using exercise, diet and supplements.
For example, vitamin D deficiencies have been linked to declining mental abilities (Vitamin D Deficiency Linked to Mental Decline) and researchers have also found that ancient meditation and exercise techniques, including qigong and Tai Chi, slow physical, mental and psychological decline in people with dementia (Studies Provide New Hope for Alzheimer’s Patients). And now, for the first time, scientists have discovered that drinking beet juice can increase blood flow to the brain in older adults and may combat the progression of Alzheimer’s and related conditions.
For the new study, which is slated for publication in Nitric Oxide: Biology and Chemistry, the peer-reviewed journal of the Nitric Oxide Society, scientists at Wake Forest University’s Translational Science Center looked at how dietary nitrates affected 14 adults age 70 and older over a period of four days. High concentrations of nitrates are found in beets and other foods including celery, cabbage, spinach and some kinds of lettuce. When a person eats high nitrate foods, the beneficial “good” bacteria in the mouth transform the nitrates into nitrites. And researchers have found that nitrites then naturally open up the blood vessels in the body. This increases blood flow and helps oxygen get specifically to places in body that are lacking oxygen.
“There have been several very high-profile studies showing that drinking beet juice can lower blood pressure, but we wanted to show that drinking beet juice also increases perfusion, or blood flow, to the brain,” Daniel Kim-Shapiro, director of the Translational Science Center, said in a press statement. “There are areas in the brain that become poorly perfused as you age, and that’s believed to be associated with dementia and poor cognition.”
On the first day, the research volunteers reported to the lab after a 10 hour fast, completed a health status report, and then drank either a high or low nitrate breakfast. The high nitrate breakfast included 16 ounces of beet juice. Then the study participants went home with lunch, dinner and snacks conforming to their specifically assigned diets.
The following day, after another 10 hour fast, the volunteers went back to the lab where they ate their assigned breakfasts. Blood samples were taken before and after breakfast to measure nitrite levels in their bodies. Then, one hour after eating, an MRI was performed to record the blood flow in each individual subject’s brain. On the third and fourth days of the study, the scientists switched the diets and repeated the process for each subject.
The results of the MRIs showed conclusively that after the older adults ate a high nitrate diet, they experienced increased blood flow to the white matter of the frontal lobes — the very area of the brain commonly associated with degeneration linked to dementia and other cognitive conditions.
“I think these results are consistent and encouraging — that good diet consisting of a lot of fruits and vegetables can contribute to overall good health,” Gary Miller, associate professor in the Department of Health and Exercise Science and one of the senior investigators on the project, said in a press statement.
S. L. Baker