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Friday, 18 February, 2000, 10:25 GMT
The hidden dangers of beetroot

BBC Doctor Colin Thomas

By BBC Doctor Colin Thomas

You would be excused for thinking that the shiny red beta vulgaris is a rather innocuous little vegetable, but I can reveal it can hold a litany of problems for those ingesting it.

My first exposure occurred as a 5-year-old child when my GP assured me that it had saved her cat's life. This of course impressed me and I was always keen to eat the red staining salad item because I wanted to stay healthy like the moggy. And indeed as far as I am aware it is indeed very good for you.

However one does need to be prepared for its effects, and as the following cases illustrate, beetroot has a lot to answer for.

My first exposure to the problem came when a patient in a high level of anxiety telephoned me to say that he had passed blood in his urine and it was all red. I instructed him to come to the surgery for a urine test that afternoon.

Usual spiel

When he came I launched into my usual spiel about needing to have a kidney X-ray and probably a bladder examination to exclude nasty causes for such a happening. After examining him I took a urine test but was surprised to discover no blood in it at all.

His urine looked perfect, and he had no other symptoms. I decided to send the specimen to the lab for a microscopic examination to look for blood cells, and quizzed him about anything unusual he might have done recently, thinking of the condition joggers bladder where vigorous exercise can cause intermittent blood in the urine.

This enquiry about unusual behaviour obviously stirred something up, because while waiting for the results from the lab he telephoned again.

"You don't suppose eating a lot of beetroot might have something to do with it?" he asked. He had remembered ingesting a heavy amount of beetroot at a restaurant the night before.

So, the diagnosis? Borscht urine!

Unpleasant tests

A similar case was relayed to me by one of my patients recently who thought he was suffering from bleeding from his back passage. He had to go through all the unpleasant tests associated with this condition.

As you've probably guessed all of his tests were normal, and it wasn't until quite late on when he was asked by one of the doctors about his diet that the pieces of the jigsaw fitted into place.

It turned out that he was partial to beetroot and regularly ate his favourite vegetable which stained his stools, and looked to him, as a lay person, like blood.

At the end of all the investigations the patient said: "It is indeed a rather a high price to pay for eating beetroot."

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