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Medically reviewed on October 17, 2017

Scientific Name(s): Beta vulgaris L. Three subspecies are recognized: Beta maritima , Beta vulgaris (red beet), and Beta cicla (chard). Family: Chenopodiaceae. Synonyms: Beta altissima , Beta brasiliensis .

Common Name(s): Beetroot , beet (with sugar beet , Swiss chard , chard , and spinach beet reflecting the common names for subspecies)


Despite traditional use of beetroot for antitumor, carminative, emmenagogue, and hemostatic properties, clinical trials are lacking to substantiate these claims. Data suggest a role as an antioxidant, as a natural source of nitrites, and a potential use in cardiovascular conditions, although evidence is limited. In the food industry, beetroot is used for its color.


Limited data are available to support therapeutic dosing.


Although not contraindicated, excessive consumption is not advised in patients with hemochromatosis or Wilson disease because of the potential for iron and copper accumulation.


Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.


None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Red urine and coloration of blood (with no apparent consequence) following beetroot consumption is apparent in a small percentage of the population.


Data are limited.


B. vulgaris is an herbaceous biennial growing 1 to 2 m in height. It bears heart-shaped leaves measuring up to 40 cm long in cultivated varieties. The 5-petaled flowers are 3 to 5 mm in diameter, green or reddish tinged, and densely arranged along a long inflorescence. A hard cluster of “nutlets” are formed as fruits. The main root of the beetroot plant is swollen and composed of alternating layers of darker and lighter conductive and storage tissues. 1 , 2


References to beetroot are found in Roman scripts for treating fever and constipation, and for use as an aphrodisiac. Hippocrates is said to have advocated using beet leaves for binding wounds. The plant was used throughout the Middle Ages for a variety of ailments. The term “nature's candy” has been associated with the historical use of sugar from beet in the Napoleonic Wars. Traditional use includes antitumor, carminative, emmenagogue, and hemostatic properties. 2 , 3 Beetroot juice is utilized in the food industry as an alternative to synthetic colorants in jams, jellies, and sauces. 4 , 5


The leaves contain varying amounts of calcium, phosphorous, iron, vitamins A and C, niacin, thiamine, and riboflavin. 3 A ribosome-inactivating protein, beetin, has been identified in mature plant leaves. 6 The roots mostly consist of saccharose and the same elements and vitamins found in the leaves, as well as folate, zinc, and magnesium. The color is mainly derived from water-soluble nitrogenous pigments called betalains: betacyanins (red) or betaxanthins (yellow), including betanin, betanidin, betalmic acid, and vulgaxanthin. 4 , 7 , 8 , 9 Heat labile phenolic acids and flavonol glycosides have also been described. 4 , 8 Assays of the chemical constituents have been performed by high-performance liquid chromatography and spectrophotometry. 10 , 11

Uses and Pharmacology


In vitro experiments in human blood and in rats indicate antioxidant activity of the betacyanins, including betanin and betanidin. Decreased sensitivity of low-density lipoproteins to oxidation, and prevention of active oxygen-induced and free radical–mediated oxidation of molecules, has been described. 4 , 5 , 10 , 11 , 12 In rats, increases of copper and zinc in the liver protecting against reperfusion injury was suggested to be via superoxide dismutase action. 13


Decreases in systolic and diastolic blood pressure were recorded for healthy volunteers after consumption of a single dose of beetroot juice. 14 A peak effect was recorded at 3 to 4 hours. Endothelial dysfunction following an acute ischemic insult was prevented and platelet aggregation was attenuated ex vivo. The effects were attributed to nitrates in the beetroot. Clinical trials among patients with cardiovascular conditions are lacking.


Older data include animal experiments in mice, evaluating efficacy against skin and lung cancer, but this line of investigation does not appear to have been pursued outside of epidemiological data and antioxidant activity. 5


Limited data are available to support therapeutic dosing; 500 mL of beetroot juice has been administered as a single dose in healthy volunteers and is estimated to contain approximately 360 mg of betanin. 10 , 14


Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking. Beetroot has been used traditionally as an emmenagogue and in the treatment of fibroids, but clinical trial data are lacking. Cattle fed large amounts of sugar beet leaves showed infertility and genital tract abnormalities; mice showed increases in uterine weight. Isoflavones are reported to have been detected in the seeds of certain sugar beet varieties. 3


None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Cross-sensitivity to sticky weed ( Parietaria ) and beet has been recorded. 13 Beeturia (red urine after eating beetroot) is found in approximately 15% of the population, 5 and coloration of the blood has also been documented (with no apparent consequence). 15


Data are limited. Accumulation of metals (copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc) in the liver with excess consumption is possible, and was demonstrated in rats. 7 Caution is warranted in patients with hemochromatosis or Wilson disease. 7


1. Beta vulgaris L. USDA, NRCS. 2008. The PLANTS Database ( , July 2008). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.
2. Chevallier A. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants . Dorling Kindersley: London; 1996.
3. Fugh-Berman A, Balick MJ, Kronenberg F, et al. Treatment of fibroids: the use of beets ( Beta vulgaris ) and molasses ( Saccharum officinarum ) as an herbal therapy by Dominican healers in New York City. J Ethnopharmacol . 2004;92(2-3):337-339.
4. Lee CH, Wettasinghe M, Bolling BW, Ji LL, Parkin KL. Betalains, phase II enzyme-inducing components from red beetroot ( Beta vulgaris L.) extracts. Nutr Cancer . 2005;53(1):91-103.
5. Stintzing FC, Carle R. Functional properties of anthocyanins and betalains in plants, food, and in human nutrition. Trends Food Sci Technol . 2004;15(1):19-38.
6. Iglesias R, Pérez Y, de Torre C, et al. Molecular characterization and systemic induction of single-chain ribosome-inactivating proteins (RIPs) in sugar beet ( Beta vulgaris ) leaves. J Exp Bot . 2005;56(416):1675-1684.
7. Blázovics A, Sárdi E, Szentmihályi K, Váli L, Takács-Hájos M, Stefanovits-Bányai E. Extreme consumption of Beta vulgaris var. rubra can cause metal ion accumulation in the liver. Acta Biol Hung . 2007;58(3):281-286.
8. Ninfali P, Bacchiocca M, Antonelli A, et al. Characterization and biological activity of the main flavonoids from Swiss Chard ( Beta vulgaris subspecies cycla ). Phytomedicine . 2007;14(2-3):216-221.
9. Frank T, Stintzing FC, Carle R, et al. Urinary pharmacokinetics of betalains following consumption of red beet juice in healthy humans. Pharmacol Res . 2005;52(4):290-297.
10. Kanner J, Harel S, Granit R. Betalains—a new class of dietary cationized antioxidants. J Agric Food Chem . 2001:49(11):5178-5185.
11. Pavlov A, Kovatcheva P, Tuneva D, Ilieva M, Bley T. Radical scavenging activity and stability of betalains from Beta vulgaris hairy root culture in simulated conditions of human gastrointestinal tract. Plant Foods Hum Nutr . 2005;60(2):43-47.
12. Sembries S, Dongowski G, Mehrländer K, Will F, Dietrich H. Physiological effects of extraction juices from apple, grape, and red beet pomaces in rats. J Agric Food Chem . 2006;54(26):10269-10280.
13. Váli L, Stefanovits-Bányai E, Szentmihályi K, et al. Liver-protecting effects of table beet ( Beta vulgaris var. rubra ) during ischemia-reperfusion. Nutrition . 2007;23(2):172-178.
14. Webb AJ, Patel N, Loukogeorgakis S, et al. Acute blood pressure lowering, vasoprotective, and antiplatelet properties of dietary nitrate via bioconversion to nitrite. Hypertension . 2008;51(3):784-790.
15. Minciullo PL, Mistrello G, Patafi M, Zanoni D, Gangemi S. Cross-reactivity between Parietaria pollen and beet. Allergol Immunopathol (Madr) . 2007;35(2):74-75.

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