According to a new US study, high intake of lycopene – mainly through tomato-based products – seems to significantly decrease the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
The observational study compared lycopene intakes as well as the consumption of tomatoes and tomato-based products (measured by a food frequency questionnaire) of 5,124 men and women (mean age of
54 years) and documented cases of cardiovascular diseases (CVD), coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke over a period of 10 years (1). The study results showed that mean lycopene intake across three measurements was 7.8 mg/day while the mean consumption of tomatoes and tomato-based products was 4.4 servings/week. The main contributors to lycopene intake were tomato sauce (over 45%), fresh and canned tomatoes, pizza, tomato juice and watermelon. After adjustment for CVD risk factors (e.g., age, elevated blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, smoking) and potential risk-reducing nutrients in the diet (including beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E), participants with the highest lycopene intakes had an up to 17% lower risk of developing CVD compared to those with the lowest intakes (2.7-fold diffe-rence in intake amount). Using an average of two intake measures, higher lycopene intakes were associated with an up to 26% reduced incidence of CHD. No link was observed between lycopene intake and stroke risk.
The researchers commented that the study findings provide support for the hypothesis that higher lycopene intake is associated with lower CVD risk. In contrast, some earlier studies have provided inconclusive results with a potential bias as lycopene intake was assessed only once, at the beginning of the trials (2, 3). Addi-tional research is needed to determine whether lycopene or other components of tomatoes, the major dietary source of lycopene, are responsible for the observed associations, the scientists added. Mainly in vitro and animal studies have suggested that lycopene can inhibit the production of reactive oxygen species, inflammation and platelet aggregation, reduce lipid peroxides and decrease total and LDL-cholesterol levels (4).