A new UK study suggests that a supplementation with lycopene may significantly improve the widening of the blood vessels in patients with cardiovascular disease.
In the randomized controlled trial, the function of blood vessels (forearm blood flow) was measured in
36 cardiovascular disease patients and 36 healthy participants who received either 7 mg of lycopene or a placebo daily for 2 months (1). The study results showed that lycopene improved and normalized the en- dothelial function in the patients: the carotenoid improved the widening of the blood vessels by over a half (53%) compared to baseline after correction for those who took the placebo. Lycopene showed no such effect in the healthy participants.
The researchers noted that all the patients were on statin medication (cholesterol-lowering drugs). However, they still had a relatively impaired function of the endothelium (the inner lining of blood vessels). Endothelial function predicts future cardiovascular events, so having a healthy endothelium is an important factor in pre- venting the evolution of heart disease. A permanent constriction of the blood vessels is one of the key fac- tors that can lead to heart attack and stroke. Epidemiological studies have indicated that lycopene, a power- ful antioxidant that can be found in tomatoes and tomato products, may reduce the cardiovascular risk. The mechanism by which it does so is unclear (2). The scientists concluded that the new study results reinforce the need for a healthy diet, such as a Mediterranean diet, in people at risk from heart disease and stroke. A daily lycopene pill would not be a substitute for other treatments, but may provide added benefits when taken alongside other medication.