Do Beets Help Brain Fog?

Beets are one of my favorite-looking vegetables. That rich, deep red color is stunning. As it turns out, beets aren’t just pretty looking outside, they also pack a punch in brain-boosting nutrients. Beets contain nitrates—molecules which turn to nitric oxide (NO) in your body, which dilates your blood vessels leading to improved circulation.

Athletes use beetroot juice to improve performance and muscle recovery. [1] And men use them to improve erections. The improved blood flow from beet consumption also extends to blood vessels in your brain, which means more oxygen and nutrients being delivered to your brain cells. This naturally contributes to clearer thinking and less mental cloudiness.

Diet and Brain Fog

We’ve all experienced brain fog in our life. Either from drinking too much alcohol, sleeping too little, or from daily stressors and challenges. The problem with brain fog is when it becomes a “new normal,” a chronic, daily occurrence.

Depending on your cause of brain fog, dietary modifications can significantly reduce or even completely eliminate it. Some foods can make brain fog worse. Checking if you should eliminate something from your diet should be your first step—your MD can help you with this.

After you’ve identified and removed foods that are potentially contributing to your brain fog, it’s time to add brain-boosting foods to your diet. Beets are one of many.

Why Beets?

Beets are powerhouse of nutrients which benefit your overall health. These include fiber, folate, and vitamin C. More interesting in this context are unique compounds in beets that work to nurture your brain.

Nitrates in Beets

Nitrates are one of the main reasons why beets are good for combating brain fog. What’s so special about nitrates? When you consume beets or beetroot juice, these nitrates get converted by your body into nitric oxide (NO). NO then relaxes and opens up your blood vessels. The result is reduced blood pressure and better circulation throughout your body, including your brain. A 2010 scientific paper showed that nitrates help to fight cognitive decline and improve executive function in older folks by improving cerebral perfusion. [2]

Cerebral Blood Flow and Brain Fog

Human brain can be compared to a bustling city. Just like roads and highways allow for movement of vehicles in a city, blood vessels enable efficient delivery of oxygen and nutrients to your brain cells.

Better blood flow equals more essential elements delivered to your brain. As such, nitrates pave the way for smoother “traffic” to your brain’s network—resulting in enhanced focus, sharper clarity, and potentially a reduction of mental haze and fogginess.

Other Notable Findings

There are more studies and study reviews that show us amazing ways in which beets can play a part in reducing brain fog.

For example, a 2021 study review suggests that it’s not just nitrates in beets that benefit cognition, but also betalains (more specifically, betanin). [3] The authors mention how betalains protect your DNA, reduce LDL, and eliminate oxidative and nitrative stress. Plus, these beet compounds also help with cell regeneration, lower fat in your blood, and even reduce glucose and blood pressure— all factors that contribute to brain health and sharpness.

Oxalates in Beets – A Word of Caution

While beets are generally seen as healthy. Not many people talk about their potential downside—high oxalate content.

Oxalates are organic compounds found in many foods. They are usually harmless in normal amounts that healthy people consume through diet, but to people with kidney problems, they can pose an issue.

Here’s why…

Oxalates tend to bind to calcium in your blood to form calcium-oxalate crystals. These crystals travel through your kidneys. Sometimes calcium oxalate kidney stones can form in this process, which are painful and damaging to kidney cells.

Some research shows an increase in kidney inflammation from high oxalate consumption. [4]

Luckily, there’s a way you can prevent the formation of these stones and also any pressure of oxalates on your kidneys. Simply consume calcium-rich food alongside beets.

This might sound counterproductive; after all, didn’t we just say that calcium binds to oxalates to form these crystals that kidneys don’t like? Yes, however, when you consume dietary calcium, it binds to oxalates in the gut before it reaches your blood or kidneys, and is then secreted out. [5]

What Next?

Beets are a good starting point, but you’ll want to look into a holistic way of combating brain fog.

Some actionable steps you can start taking right now:

  1. Dietary modifications – first, identifying and eliminating foods that trigger or worsen your brain fog, and replacing them with brain-friendly alternatives.
  2. Sunlight exposure for 20 minutes a day – sunlight is important especially after you wake up to get your brain chemicals into balance for the rest of the day. It also gives your body the essential vitamin D which regulates many areas of brain function. If you live in a place where this tip is not practical, consider checking your vitamin D blood levels and taking a supplement if you’re below the optimal range.
  3. 7-9 hours of sleep – if you’re consistently not getting enough quality sleep, you can add as much as brain-healthy foods as you want, brain fog will be hard to get rid of. It just so happens that sleep is third on this particular list but it’s the most important tip to take away from here, even if you forget about everything else.
  4. Physical activity – Any type of exercise that you’re comfortable with, be it running or walking or weightlifting, is shown to be good for pretty much all aspects of brain health and cognitive sharpness. [6]
  5. Get a massage – Reducing your stress levels is important because if you’re chronically stressed, it means your adrenal glands are working overtime pumping out adrenaline and cortisol. This can lead to “burnout” (Google it if you’re not sure what it means). One of burnout’s hallmark symptoms is brain fog.

References

  1. Domínguez R, Cuenca E, Maté-Muñoz JL, García-Fernández P, Serra-Paya N, Estevan MC, Herreros PV, Garnacho-Castaño MV. Effects of Beetroot Juice Supplementation on Cardiorespiratory Endurance in Athletes. A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2017 Jan 6;9(1):43. doi: 10.3390/nu9010043. PMID: 28067808; PMCID: PMC5295087.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5295087/
  2. Presley TD, Morgan AR, Bechtold E, Clodfelter W, Dove RW, Jennings JM, Kraft RA, King SB, Laurienti PJ, Rejeski WJ, Burdette JH, Kim-Shapiro DB, Miller GD. Acute effect of a high nitrate diet on brain perfusion in older adults. Nitric Oxide. 2011 Jan 1;24(1):34-42. doi: 10.1016/j.niox.2010.10.002. Epub 2010 Oct 15. PMID: 20951824; PMCID: PMC3018552.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3018552/
  3. Chen L, Zhu Y, Hu Z, Wu S, Jin C. Beetroot as a functional food with huge health benefits: Antioxidant, antitumor, physical function, and chronic metabolomics activity. Food Sci Nutr. 2021 Sep 9;9(11):6406-6420. doi: 10.1002/fsn3.2577. PMID: 34760270; PMCID: PMC8565237.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8565237/#:~:text=In%20the%20research%20of%20healthy,et%20al.%2C%202015).
  4. Ermer T, Eckardt KU, Aronson PS, Knauf F. Oxalate, inflammasome, and progression of kidney disease. Curr Opin Nephrol Hypertens. 2016 Jul;25(4):363-71. doi: 10.1097/MNH.0000000000000229. PMID: 27191349; PMCID: PMC4891250.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4891250/
  5. https://wellness.uoguelph.ca/services/health-services/all-health-services/dietitian-services/student-diet-nutrition-faqs/does-0#:~:text=In%20fact%2C%20including%20foods%20rich,kidneys%20helping%20to%20prevent%20stones.
  6. Mandolesi L, Polverino A, Montuori S, Foti F, Ferraioli G, Sorrentino P, Sorrentino G. Effects of Physical Exercise on Cognitive Functioning and Wellbeing: Biological and Psychological Benefits. Front Psychol. 2018 Apr 27;9:509. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00509. PMID: 29755380; PMCID: PMC5934999.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5934999/

Nashua Valley Team

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