A few years ago I would have thought it unlikely, but beets have risen close to the top of the superfood hit parade. They not only support your brain and boost muscle performance but also keep your heart functioning better.
And now some researchers think this invigorating veggie may secretly be harboring an Alzheimer’s “drug.” Beets contain a compound that someday might be used even by last-to-know doctors to fight back against the disease.
Just when you think the research on beets can’t get any more impressive, someone publishes new and better proof.
An analysis at the University of Florida shows that a natural substance called betanin, the chemical that gives beets their red color, can give your brain a brighter future. Savvy readers know that color in fruits and vegetables is often associated with health-giving chemicals.
The reasons betanin is so beneficial involve some wayward cellular developments that contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.
To understand these processes, first keep in mind the Japanese practice of origami – the art of folding paper into a surprising number of detailed shapes. If you’ve ever seen a complicated figure – like a flower or an animal – made via origami, you can’t help but be amazed at how a single sheet of paper can be creased and folded to make such a complicated construction.
Well, your brain cells are masters of their own type of origami. Only, in their case, they meticulously fold proteins into the precise configurations that keep your memory and thinking abilities on track.
But when things go wrong…
That’s when proteins get mis-folded in the brain and you end up with ugly clumps and tangles – like crumpled pieces of paper – that interfere with neurons. These mis-folded proteins can also make an oxidative mess – a free radical car wreck – that kills off neurons.
But betanin may be able to clean up this mess.
A Food to Counter Rogue Beta-Amyloid
What happens, say the Florida researchers, is that during Alzheimer’s disease, a protein in the brain called beta-amyloid links up with copper or another available mineral like iron. Attachment to these metals causes the beta-amyloid to fold incorrectly and form misshapen clumps that lead to inflammation and oxidation. And eventually to those amyloid beta plaques so often seen in dementia patients.
But if betanin is available, it keeps the metallic minerals away from beta-amyloid.1
“We can’t say that betanin stops the misfolding completely, but we can say that it reduces oxidation,” comments researcher Darrell Cole Cerrato. “Less oxidation could prevent misfolding to a certain degree, perhaps even to the point that it slows the aggregation of beta-amyloid peptides, which is believed to be the ultimate cause of Alzheimer’s.”
Not everyone believes that the build-up of beta-amyloid in the brain is the “ultimate cause” of Alzheimer’s. But the fact that the betanin in beets slows inflammation and oxidation among brain cells makes it important for improving brain health.
Rejuvenate Your Brain
Along with that study of how betanin helps the brain, another analysis by researchers at Wake Forest University shows that consuming beet juice right before exercising can help you have a “younger” brain.
In this study, the researchers scanned the brains of people over the age of 55 who took a drink of concentrated beet juice before going for 50-minute walks. Over the course of six weeks, walking three times a week, the scientists found that drinking the beet juice supercharged the formation of neuronal networks in these folks’ brains.2
The jazzed up nerve networks made their brains function like younger, more nimble brains. It enhanced what is called neuroplasticity – the neurons’ ability to reorganize themselves and help the brain learn new information and operate at a higher level.
Now, along with being a fountain of youth for your brain, other beet benefits include:
- Helping people with heart failure: Beet juice can improve the ability to exercise and control blood pressure in people suffering heart failure.3
- Supports muscle recovery: A study in England shows that drinking beet juice after a workout reduces muscle soreness and helps muscles recover faster.4
- Sends more blood to the brain: Eating beets can improve blood flow to the brain, potentially lowering the risk of dementia and other memory problems.5
It appears that any method of consuming beets or beet juice can provide these benefits. Chop up some fresh beets and toss them in a juicer. Put beets in a blender with other fruits and vegetables for a smoothie. Or you can buy concentrated beet juice online or at a health food store.