A glass of beetroot juice a day could halve the risk of a heart attack or other complications for those with angina, research suggests.
The study of 300 patients, who had stents fitted found those who drank the juice on a daily basis were far less likely to suffer such problems in the two years that followed.
Experts believe the nitrates which are naturally present in beetroot juice help to keep blood vessels open, reducing the risk of heart disease.
The study, presented at the British Cardiovascular Society Conference in Manchester, tracked patients with angina, a type of chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart muscles.
All those in the study had been fitted with a stent – a wire mesh tube inserted into arteries to keep them open.
Around 1.3 million people in the UK suffer from stable angina, and around 100,000 patients a year undergo stent surgery to reduce the risk of heart attacks.
Participants were asked to drink 70ml of beetroot juice every day for six months, with half the group given a placebo drink that removed key nitrates.
In the two years that followed, 16 per cent of patients in the control group suffered a serious incident such as a heart attack or stroke, or required another procedure.
Among the beetroot juice drinkers, the figure was 7.5 per cent. In addition, when the blood vessel width of patients was measured six months after stenting, the vessels of those who drank beetroot juice showed around half as much narrowing in that time as those who had a placebo treatment.
Researchers based at St Bartholomew’s Hospital and Queen Mary University (QMUL) in London said they hoped to see the juice prescribed to those recovering from the surgery, if larger trials supported their findings.
The study was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research and the British Heart Foundation.
Dr Krishnaraj Rathod, clinical senior lecturer at QMUL’s William Harvey Research Institute, who led the trial, said: “Experiments in the lab suggested that the inorganic nitrate which is found naturally in beetroot juice would have these effects, and it is very encouraging to see it create such a big improvement in the clinic for angina patients.
“Our patients liked that their treatment was a completely natural product that has no significant side-effects.
“We will now take this to the next stage of trials in the hope that doctors can soon prescribe beetroot juice to ensure stents last longer to provide even more effective relief of symptoms.”
High nitrate level
The researchers said they could show that beetroot juice helps patients thanks to the high level of inorganic nitrate.
Patients in the trial that had beetroot juice with inorganic nitrate removed did not get the same beneficial effects.
Prof James Leiper, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Stenting is one of the most crucial tools we have in the fight against coronary heart disease but work still needs to be done to ensure that every patient sees a long-term benefit from the procedure.
“Thousands of patients each year have to go through the stress of a medical procedure on their heart more than once before it is successful.
“This small study offers hope that this can be prevented. The trial must now be scaled up to confirm the initial observation that beetroot juice can make a difference.”