Root-ing interest: Beet pigment may slow Alzheimer’s

Researchers from the University of South Florida in Tampa say changes in the brain that are characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease may be slowed down by betanin, an anti-oxidant substance found in a common root vegetable.

First, some background.

Our brains produce protein fragments called beta-amyloid, which, when things are working as they should, are broken down and rendered harmless. But in Alzheimer’s, these protein fragments cluster together, disrupting the normal signaling between neurons. The clusters also trigger the nervous system’s inflammatory response, something that anti-oxidants combat.

The team from Tampa was intrigued by a study, published in 2017, that showed drinking beetroot juice before aerobic exercise made the aging brain look younger by increasing blood flow and regulating the circulation of oxygen. Team leader Li-June Ming, a chemistry professor, and his colleagues set out to determine whether betanin, the pigment found in beets that gives the vegetable its dark red color, could be used to prevent beta-amyloid from forming into harmful clusters.

Dr. Deepti Sadhwani, of the Quality Health Care & Wellness Institute in Wabasso, says that earlier studies have shown betanin to be an effective antioxidant. Oxidation is a normal function that occurs as our bodies metabolize oxygen we breathe. But oxidation can result in the production of an excess of unstable molecules called free radicals that contribute to inflammation. “Antioxidants such as betanin have properties that can help prevent oxidative stress,” Dr. Sadhwani says.

From previous research, the Tampa team knew that the formation of beta-amyloid clusters is often dependent on how they bind to zinc and copper molecules in the brain. The team decided to see whether adding betanin into the mix could disrupt that formation.

Using sophisticated machinery and a compound called DTBC, the team conducted a series of laboratory experiments in which they observed the level of oxidative damage when beta-amyloid bound to copper molecules. The researchers then added beet-derived betanin to the mix, and saw that the amount of oxidation was reduced by up to 90 percent.

This discovery led the team to speculate that betanin could contribute to development of better drugs to treat Alzheimer’s. Says Wabasso’s Dr. Sadhwani: “In this study, betanin was shown to neutralize the free radicals that cause oxidative damage.”

The results of the team’s research were presented at the 255th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, held in New Orleans in March.

Li-June Ming and his team did not claim that betanin can prevent Alzheimer’s entirely, but they do say it may provide the key to tackling the disease’s physiological roots. Darrell Cole Cerrato, a graduate student working with Li-June, says “we can say that it reduces oxidation, perhaps even to the point where it slows the aggregation of beta-amyloid peptides, which is believed to be the ultimate cause of Alzheimer’s.”

Ming says “this is just a first step, but we hope that our findings will encourage other scientists to look for structures similar to betanin that could be used to synthesize drugs that could help those who suffer from this disease.”

Dr. Sadhwani says the “similar to betanin” part of Ming’s statement is significant. She says “betanin is likely not unique, and other antioxidants could produce similar results. This is good news, as it opens the door to broader research about the role of antioxidants in the treatment of Alzheimer’s.”


Dr. Sadhwani is board-certified in internal and bariatric medicine and specializes in disease prevention and reversal. The Quality Health Care & Wellness Institute is located at 8701 U.S. 1. Their phone number is 772-228-8480; their website is

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