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Are beets good for your heart?

Step to the “beet”

Q: I read that many medical experts now believe that elevated levels of homocysteine–not high cholesterol–are the main cause of cardiovascular disease in Western society. Some say it’s good to eat beets because they contain betaine, an important source of a molecule that accelerates the detoxification of homocysteine and transforms it into cysteine, a safe amino acid. Do you have any more information about this?

Dr. Wright: High cholesterol (especially with low HDL cholesterol) and elevated homocysteine are both recognized as independent risk factors for cardiovascular disease. But many other risk factors exist, including elevated C-reactive protein (a marker for inflammation in the cardiovascular system), elevated fibrinogen (a precursor of fibrin, a clotting factor), low serum free testosterone (for men), low tissue magnesium, and others.

Three vitamins in particular are known to lower homocysteine: vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid. But betaine, which is found in relatively high amounts in beets, can also help (although I haven’t seen research on this precise point).

Betaine is also the “carrier” for the hydrochloric acid commonly taken by individuals with low stomach acid (gastric hypochlorhydria) to help digest their meals. In people with high levels of homocysteine and low stomach acid, I have observed betaine hydrochloride to function as a “twofer”–it helps digest your food and lowers homocysteine at the same time.

To get a better picture of your own cardiovascular risk, have a physician skilled and knowledgeable in nutritional and natural medicine evaluate all known risk factors. It’s quite possible to have normal cholesterol and homocysteine, yet still develop significant cardiovascular disease, but having control of all testable risk factors definitely lowers your risk.