I know, it is all too early. But I get easily carried away when I see some potentially good news in relation to food. In this case it is the heavily coloured beetroot. So here we go.
A little background
Someone in the world develops dementia every 3 seconds. There were an estimated 50 million people in 2017 living with dementia. This number will almost double every 20 years. Much of the increase will be in developing countries. Already 58% of people with dementia live in low and middle income countries.
There are over 100 forms of dementia. The most well-known form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for 50-60% of all cases. We all know about the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Its incidence rises with age.
Scientists are still trying to figure out what causes this progressive and irreversible brain disorder. But one prime suspect is beta-amyloid, a sticky protein fragment, or peptide, that accumulates in the brain, disrupting communication between brain cells called neurons. Much of this damage occurs when beta-amyloid attaches itself to metals such as iron or copper. These metals can cause beta-amyloid peptides to misfold and bind together in clumps that can promote inflammation and oxidation in nearby neurons, eventually killing them.
Beetroot to the rescue??
Previous research have suggested that beetroot juice can improve oxygen flow to the aging brain and possibly improve cognitive performance. There are some indications that the positive effects could be mediated by betanin, the compound in beetroot that gives the vegetable its distinctive red colour.
Building on the previous work, scientists at the University of South Florida wanted to find out if betanin, a compound that readily binds to metals, could block the effects of copper on beta-amyloid and, in turn, prevent the misfolding of these peptides and the oxidation of neurons.
In laboratory studies, the scientists measured oxidative reactivity of beta-amyloid only, beta-amyloid bound to copper, and copper-bound beta-amyloid in a mixture containing betanin.
On its own, beta-amyloid caused little or no oxidation. However, as expected, beta-amyloid bound to copper induced substantial oxidation. But when betanin was added to the copper-bound beta-amyloid mixture, the researchers found oxidation dropped by as much as 90%, suggesting that misfolding of the peptides was potentially suppressed.
A little beetroot in the diet wouldn’t hurt
Now that sounds like some good news, although remember that this was very early pure chemical laboratory studies. Anyway it can be good to know that the concentration of betanin in red beetroot can reach 300–600 mg/kg. Other dietary sources of betanin include the Opuntia cactus, Swiss chard, and the leaves of some strains of amaranth.
Betanin is also allowed in unlimited amounts as a natural red food colouring agent (E162). It can be found in ice cream, some sugar confectionary and fruit or cream fillings. Betanin is also used in soups as well as tomato, bacon and other meat and sausage products.
So go for some extra beetroot in your diet.