Beetroot juice can reduce blood pressure in pregnancy: can we predict which women will respond?

Dr Elizabeth Cottrell, Thomas Willmott, Dr Gavin Humphreys, Professor Andrew McBain, Dr Sue Greenwood, Professor Colin Sibley, Dr Jenny Myers

By looking at the bacteria present in women’s mouths, our researchers want to find out why drinking beetroot juice reduces blood pressure in some pregnant women with hypertension, while others do not respond to this treatment.

Start: September 2018

End: September 2022

Why do we need this research?

Around 1 in 10 pregnant women have chronic hypertension – high blood pressure before or early in pregnancy. These women are more likely to suffer from pre-eclampsia, and their babies may be born too small or too soon because there isn’t enough blood flowing across the placenta for the baby to get the food and oxygen it needs. There are very few treatments available for pregnant women with high blood pressure. We believe this needs to change.

Beetroot juice can reduce blood pressure in some women

Our scientists have recently shown that drinking beetroot juice can reduce high blood pressure in pregnant women. This works because beetroot juice is a source of nitrate, which our bodies convert into nitric oxide – a small molecule that makes our blood vessels get wider and allows blood to flow more easily.

However, they found that some women were not able to make use of the nitrate in beetroot juice, meaning that they did not benefit from this treatment.

Bacteria living in our mouths and gut can affect how we digest certain foods. Previous research has shown that people may only benefit from dietary nitrate if they have a particular mixture of bacteria in their mouths.

Researchers funded by Tommy’s now want to find out if this is also the case for pregnant women with high blood pressure, so that we can predict who will respond to beetroot juice and who won’t.

What’s happening in this project?

To do this, our researchers will investigate whether there are any differences between the bacteria present in the mouths of normal pregnant women and those with high blood pressure. Our researchers will recruit 160 pregnant women and study the bacteria in their mouths, collected using a cheek swab or from saliva. They will find out whether women with different mixtures of bacteria in their mouths have different responses to beetroot juice.

What difference will this project make?

We hope that this study will show us why some women with high blood pressure benefit from drinking beetroot juice while others don’t. The results will help us to improve the effectiveness of this treatment in order to better manage high blood pressure in pregnancy, and reduce the risks for mother and baby.

Join the fight against baby loss

Tommy's funds research across the UK investigating the reasons for miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth. We can keep you updated on ways you can support our work. If you would like to join our fight against baby loss and premature birth, click here.

More about Tommy's research

  • Three pregnant women sitting in a row

    Research into health and wellbeing in pregnancy

    In addition to our core work on miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm birth and pre-eclampsia, Tommy’s also funds projects that research the effects of lifestyle and well-being on pregnancy and on the later life of the child.

  • Team of researchers

    Research into stillbirth

    When a baby dies after 24 weeks of gestation, it is called a stillbirth. Nearly 3000 families a year get the devastating news that their baby is not alive. Our research is helping to change this.

  • Nurse monitoring premature baby in hospital

    Research into premature birth

    Around 60,000 babies are born prematurely each year in the UK. These babies are vulnerable – they are born before they have grown to cope with the outside world. Tommy’s is saving lives by researching how we can prevent premature births by finding those at risk early on.

  • Clinical researcher looking at test tube

    Research into miscarriage

    Miscarriage is the most common complication of pregnancy with 1 in 4 women experiencing at least 1 miscarriage during their reproductive lifetime. This is a quarter of all mothers-to-be, a quarter of all families affected by loss.

    Was this information useful?

    Yes No