A University of WA researcher has found that vegetables rich in nitrate help to offset arterial stiffness and reduce blood pressure, thereby lowering people's risk of heart disease.
Scientist Alex Liu is researching the effects that nitrate-rich vegetables and beet- roots could have on blood pressure and arterial stiffness as part of his PhD studies.
Mr Liu's research, which is expected to be completed by the end of the year, shows that an intake of spinach is beneficial.
"What we found from the spinach study was that a meal rich in spinach could lower blood pressure and reduce arterial stiffness significantly within a few hours," he said.
Arterial stiffness is the general measure for the elasticity of arteries and a reduction in elasticity can be a normal occurrence as the body ages.
The level of arterial stiffness has major health implications because it influences how hard the heart has to work to pump blood throughout the body.
The study involved participants eating 250g of spinach, which is considered to have high levels of nitrate, and then measuring their blood pressure and arterial elasticity over a number of hours.
The increase of nitrate in the body appeared to cause vasodilation and a relaxation of the smooth muscle cells of the arteries, increasing their elasticity and in effect lowering blood pressure.
Mr Liu said measuring arterial stiffness could also help diagnose or prevent future health issues because it was an indicator of cardiovascular risks such as heart attacks and strokes.
"Blood pressure and arterial stiffness are both strong predictors of heart disease risk," he said.
"Increased arterial stiffness is the most important cause of increased systolic blood pressure and pulse pressure."
Cardiovascular disease is one of Australia's biggest health problems, accounting for almost 50,000 deaths in 2008, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
"Arterial stiffness is a predictor of cardiovascular outcomes in different populations and an increase is associated with incidents (like) cardiovascular disease and strokes," Mr Liu said.
He said the research used participants with normal blood pressure and weight range but he wanted to investigate the effects these vegetables might have on people with elevated blood pressure.
Mr Liu said he hoped this research might help to find an easy and affordable approach to preventing cardiovascular disease and his work would look at the long-term effects these vegetables might have on blood pressure and arterial stiffness.
This article first appeared on ScienceNetwork WA at sciencewa .net.au.