The juice of long life? Beetroot! In fact, beetroot juice is able to modify the bacterial population of the mouth by promoting good bacteria, associated with a better state of health of the blood vessels and the brain. This is what emerges from a very recent scientific research published in the journal Redox Biology by a team from the University of Exeter, England (Vanhatalo et al, Redox Biology, 2021).
The importance of nitric oxide
Nitric oxide is a substance that is produced in our body and that performs important functions such as regulating vascular tone and blood pressure and acting as a neurotransmitter. With age, however, the amount of nitric oxide tends to decrease with consequences on the cardiovascular system and cognitive function. This is why the British researchers have performed an experiment to evaluate how, in elderly people, the integration of nitric oxide sources in the diet may affect cardiovascular and brain health.
The benefits of nitric oxide on heart and brain health, the experiment
Scientists started from the observation that there are various bacteria in the mouth that transform nitrates, substances naturally present in plants, into nitric oxide. In particular, beetroot juice is a valuable source of nitrates, such as lettuce, spinach and celery. The researchers recruited 30 people between the ages of 70 and 80. For the first ten days, study participants were asked to take a placebo which consisted of a nitrate-free juice. For the next ten days, the volunteers drank 140 ml of beetroot juice, a rich source of nitrates, every day. During the experiment, any changes in the bacterial flora of the mouth were evaluated through saliva samples. Not only that, the volunteers also underwent medical checks to assess blood pressure and health and tests to detect cognitive function.
The beetroot protects heart and brain
At the end of the experiment, it turned out that the beetroot juice brought changes in the bacterial population of the mouth. In particular, a reduction in the Prevotella and Veillonella bacterial strains was observed. These bacteria are associated with states of inflammation, colitis and diarrhea. At the same time, the nitrates contained in beetroot have increased the presence of other bacteria connected to a better health of the cardiovascular system, such as the Rothia type, and of the brain, such as Neisseria and Haemophilus. Not only that, the intake of nitrates, and the consequent increase in the production of nitric oxide, led to a reduction in blood pressure, on average by 5 mmHg. Finally, cognitive function also improved since the volunteers all showed a significant increase in attention.
The study is preliminary and its limitation is that it was carried out on a very small sample of the population. However, it is certainly noteworthy since it focuses on the microbiota of the mouth, that is, the set of bacteria that populate the oral cavity, responsible for the state of health not only of the mouth but also of the entire body. Other studies will also follow to evaluate the impact of a diet rich in nitrates in the case of people with diseases and also involving other age groups.