Betanin which is a compound that gives the vegetable its distinctive red colour, may slow the accumulation of protein plaque tangles, which are associated with the condition, in the brain.
Study author Dr. Li-June Ming, from the University of South Florida, said: “Our data suggest that betanin, a compound in beet extract, shows some promise as an inhibitor of certain chemical reactions in the brain that are involved in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
“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 synthesise drugs that could make life a bit easier for those who suffer from this disease.”
Dementia cases, of which Alzheimer’s is the most common form of the disorder, are expected to treble globally by 2050.
Study author Darrell Cole Cerrato said: “We can’t say that betanin stops the misfolding completely, but we can say that it reduces oxidation.
“Less oxidation could prevent misfolding to a certain degree, perhaps even to the point that it slows the aggregation of beta-amyloid peptides, which is believed to be the ultimate cause of Alzheimer’s.”
According to Professor Ming, brain damage occurs when proteins, known as beta-amyloids, attach themselves to metals, such as iron or copper.
These can cause the proteins to misfold and bind together in clumps that can promote inflammation and oxidation, a process similar to rusting, in nearby nerve cells, which eventually kills them.
Previous research suggests beetroot juice also improves oxygen flow to the ageing brain and may improve cognitive performance. The researchers analysed whether betanin blocks the effects of copper on beta-amyloid and, in turn, prevents damage.