Could beetroot juice be used to treat fetal growth restriction?

Supplementation with dietary nitrate can improve heart and blood vessel function, enhance exercise performance and increase blood flow. We want to see whether this could also treat fetal growth restriction.

Fetal growth restriction (FGR) is when a baby’s growth in the womb slows or stops, and affects around 5% of all pregnancies. Often when this happens, there isn’t enough blood flowing across the placenta: this means the baby can’t get the food and oxygen it needs to grow. Currently, there is no treatment for FGR: early delivery is the only option. Funded by the British Heart Foundation and Central Manchester NHS Foundation Trust, researchers at the Tommy’s London centre are trying to change this.

Nitric oxide is a small molecule made throughout the body that makes our blood vessels get wider, allowing blood to flow more easily. It is particularly important in making sure enough blood flows across the placenta during pregnancy.

Too little nitric oxide has been associated with decreased blood flow in pregnancies where the baby isn’t growing normally. Recently, scientists have shown that nitrate – which we eat plenty of in green leafy vegetables and beetroot – can be “activated” in the body to increase levels of nitric oxide. Studies in non-pregnant humans and animals have shown that supplementing the diet with nitrate can improve heart and blood vessel function, lead to better exercise performance and increase blood flow.

We are now looking at if the same is true of pregnant mice. So far, our data show that giving  mice nitrate in the form of beetroot juice can improve blood flow in both mother and the growing baby. We are also finishing a small clinical trial in pregnant women to see if the same effects occur. If so, dietary nitrate could be a promising way of improving heart and blood vessel health in pregnancies at risk of FGR. 

Researchers

Dr Elizabeth Cottrell, Dr Teresa Tropea, Professor Colin Sibley, Dr Susan Greenwood, Dr Mark Wareing, Catherine Chmiel, Dr Laura Ormesher, Dr Ed Johnstone, Dr Jenny Myers

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Funding

This study takes place in a Tommy's centre and is funded by the British Heart Foundation and the Central Manchester NHS Foundation Trust

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