- Ben Fuchs
I’ve been hearing a lot of commercials about beets lately, the latest darling of the nutritional supplement industry. Supplements using beets, particularly beet juice and beet powder, look to exploit recent research findings focused on the nutrient-dense tap root's ability to enhance athletic performance, strength and endurance.
The secret to the beet boost for athletes and workout warriors is in its nitrogen content, specifically in the form of nitrates and nitrites. Despite the conventional wisdom that these chemicals are best avoided, as it turns out the misunderstood molecules have been a valued medicinal asset for doctors and health care professionals for over a hundred years. They’re sources of nitrogen and, when transformed into the gas hormone nitric oxide (NO), they become a potent hormone-like biochemical that plays various important roles in keeping the body healthy. NO is especially important for heart health. It lowers blood pressure, supports the flow of fluid through the circulatory system, improves male sexual performance, fights cancer, destroys tumors and is anti-inflammatory. In addition to being a source of nitric oxide, nitrates may play an important role in eye health, particularly for patients dealing with glaucoma, a leading cause of blindness that affects 3 million Americans. A 1998 article published in the journal Vision concluded that the use of therapeutic nitrates in glaucoma patients may offer a protective effect. More recently, a study published in JAMA Ophthalmology found that American adults who ate the most nitrates were 21 percent less likely than those who ate the least nitrates to develop open-angle glaucoma by the time they were in their 60s and 70s.