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  • Writer's pictureNikki Latham

Can Beetroot Juice Keep Our Brains Sharp Later In Life?

An innovated clinical trial will investigate how drinking beetroot juice impacts the brain function in older adults, via the bacteria that live in our mouths.
A donation from University of Exeter alumnus Tom Morgan (Business Economics 1999) is supporting the new research. Beetroot juice is high in dietary nitrate, which our oral microbiome processes and turns into nitric oxide, a molecule which plays a key role in transmitting information between cells and regulating blood vessels.

As we get older the production of nitric oxide production is lower, and this is associated with poorer vascular (blood vessel) and cognitive (brain) health. Diets can increase this production but few adults eat enough to produce what the body needs. Previous studies at University of Exeter have found that drinking beetroot juice alters the mouth microbiome, indicating higher levels of nitric oxide, meaning less risk of disease and inflamation.
Professor Anni Vanhatalo, Professor of Human Physiology at the University of Exeter, is one of the lead academics on the new study. She said: " The oral microbiome is increasingly being recognised as an exciting avenue for cognitive health research."

She added: "The University of Exeter has led the way on previous research which suggests that dietary nitrate, which is found in beetroot juice, may enhance brain function. Our clinical trial is needed to see if we can confirm these findings in older people. This project has a really exciting potential to impact early detection of dementia risk."

The new trial will be 60 participants recruited through PROTECT online platform which holds 25,000 people over the age of 40, it's a custom-made to support trials like this. Half will be sent beetroot juice supplements and the other half will receive a specially produced beetroot juice with the dietary nitrate removed, to act as a placebo for research. All participants will undertake cognitive tests at the beginning and end of a 12-week period again on the PROTECT platform, as well as providing saliva samples to detect any changes in their oral microbiome.
The study is led by the University of Exeter and the Institute of Psychiatry Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King's College London, and funded by National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre.
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