Consumption of nitrate-rich beetroot juice (BRJ) by athletes induces a number of beneficial physiological health effects, which are linked to the formation of nitric oxide (NO) from nitrate. However, following a secondary pathway, NO may also lead to the formation of N-nitroso compounds (NOCs), which are known to be carcinogenic in 39 animal species. The extent of the formation of NOCs is modulated by various other dietary factors, such as vitamin C. The present study investigates the endogenous formation of NOCs after BRJ intake and the impact of vitamin C on urinary NOC excretion. In a randomized, controlled trial, 29 healthy recreationally active volunteers ingested BRJ with or without additional vitamin C supplements for one week. A significant increase of urinary apparent total N-nitroso Compounds (ATNC) was found after one dose (5 to 47 nmol/mmol: p < 0.0001) and a further increase was found after seven consecutive doses of BRJ (104 nmol/mmol: p < 0.0001). Vitamin C supplementation inhibited ATNC increase after one dose (16 compared to 72 nmol/mmol, p < 0.01), but not after seven daily doses. This is the first study that shows that BRJ supplementation leads to an increase in formation of potentially carcinogenic NOCs. In order to protect athlete's health, it is therefore important to be cautious with chronic use of BRJ to enhance sports performances.
Keywords: Beetroot juice; N-nitroso compounds; human dietary intervention; nitrate; nitrite; vitamin C.