Going trekking? Don’t forget to pack beetroot

Next time you go trekking in the mountains, carry beet juice with you, as researchers have found for the first time that drinking beet juice can help the body cope with low levels of oxygen at high altitudes.

Mountain climbers have always struggled with a basic problem – altitude sickness, caused by lower air pressures which affect the ability of our bodies to take up oxygen. The best way to minimise the risk of developing acute mountain sickness (AMS) is acclimatization, or simply spending enough time up high to allow the body to make adjustments to lower oxygen levels.

A team of researchers decided to see how nitrate-rich beet juice might affect acclimatisation on a 39-day expedition to Kathmandu and at 3,700 metres in the Rolwaling Valley, Nepal. Normal blood vessel function depends on the body’s ability to naturally produce the compound nitric oxide (NO).

Production of adequate amounts of NO at high altitudes is a challenge since natural NO production requires oxygen. But the body has a “back-up system” for NO production at altitude, and it is here that beet juice can help. The secret ingredient in beet juice is high levels of nitrate, which the body can then convert to NO.

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