Although many aspects of lycopene functions still need to be clarified, low-dose supplementation of the carotenoid can be already suggested as a preventive measure for cardiovascular disease, says a new Italian review.
The review systematically analyzed available epidemiological studies and interventional trials in order to critically evaluate the association between lycopene supplementation and cardiovascular diseases (CVD) and/or cardiovascular disease risk factors progression (1). The literature analysis showed that several reports – mostly based on epidemiological studies – support the role of lycopene in preventing cardiovascular disease (2) and decreasing risk factors (3) and biomarkers (4) of CVD. A less clear and more complex picture emerged from the interventional trials, in which several studies have reported conflicting results (5).
The researchers concluded that although many aspects of lycopene’s role in metabolism, functions and clinical indications remain to be clarified, low-dose supplementation of lycopene can be already suggested as a preventive measure for contrasting and ameliorating many aspects of CVD. As the development of chronic diseases depends on multiple factors, intervention trials supplementing only single micronutrients would likely show no or only little effect on CVD risk. More research would be needed to suggest beneficial effects.
Lycopene is a natural carotenoid found in tomatoes. Although the tomato is a member of the carotenoid family, it does not have pro-vitamin A activity. However, it does have many other biochemical functions, both as an antioxidant scavenger and an inhibitor of pro-inflammatory and pro-thrombotic factors, thus potentially of benefit in CVD. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in Western societies and accounts for up to one-third of all deaths worldwide. In comparison to Northern European and other Western countries, the Mediterranean region has lower mortality rates caused by cardiovascular diseases and cancer. This is attributed, at least in part, to the so-called Mediterranean diet, which is rich in plant-derived carotenoids such as lycopene, beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin.