Health briefs: Researchers find beetroot juice has kick

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Want to beat the competition? British researchers looked into whether drinking beetroot juice boosts athletic performance and found some positive signs.

Cyclists who drank 16 ounces of beetroot juice 21/2 hours before exercising improved their race times by 2 to 3 percent in short and long time trials, researchers at the University of Exeter found in a nine-man study.

Runners and walkers who drank beetroot juice reduced by 12 to 14 percent the amount of oxygen they required while exercising, which made it possible for them to go farther and faster, said the research team.

Beetroot juice is the blended, liquefied version of the beet. It's low in calories, but few find the taste appealing. Those who drink it recommend diluting it with a tastier fruit or vegetable juice.

"It looks like a good quality study," said Betsy Blazek-O'Neill, head of the integrated medicine program at Allegheny General Hospital. "There is a part of me that gets a little annoyed at the superfood-of-the-week mentality. But if there are foods like beets that contain high levels of the things that can boost athletic performance, I'd much rather have people drinking beet juice than injecting steroids or taking ephedra [a supplement based in traditional Chinese medicine]."

She said what she liked best about the study is that the Exeter researchers tried to find out why the juice would help.

The researchers said nitrate in the beets is converted by the body into nitric oxide, known to improve vasodilation (the widening of blood vessels resulting from the relaxation of smooth muscle cells within the vessel walls) and, consequently, blood flow. This could provide a mechanism for decreased oxygen cost of exercise and increased athletic performance.

Despite the small size of the study, the results look promising, Dr. Blazek-O'Neill said.

"You can't drink beet juice all day long, but this appears to be a safe way to improve your performance as an athlete," she said. "I don't see a down side."

Parish nurse training

The Pittsburgh Mercy Health System will hold the autumn session of its Parish Nurse Preparation Course Sept. 21-22 and Oct. 5-6 in at UPMC Mercy, 1400 Locust St., Uptown.

The course costs $395 and is open to lay people as well as health care professionals.

The course will focus on the five main roles of the parish nurse: educator, counselor, advocate, developer of support groups, and integrator of faith and health.

The course is limited to 20. Registration deadline is Sept. 14.

Information: 412-232-5815, ParishNurse@mercy.pmhs.org or www.pmhs.org.

health

Jack Kelly: jkelly@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1476.


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