Lycopene is a substance that is found in tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables. A new study, from the University of Cambridge, has determined that the extract improves the function of blood vessels in patients with cardiovascular disease.
Cardiovascular disease occurs on a global scale but the rates are considerably lower in Southern Europe where a ‘Mediterranean diet’ consists of a larger consumption of fruit, vegetables and olive oil predominates. Several studies have linked consumption of a Mediterranean diet to a lower risk of heart attack and stroke.
The study published in the PLOS one journal links lycopene a powerful antioxidant to reduction of heart disease. Lycopene is ten times more powerful than vitamin E and its potency is enhanced when it is consumed in purees, ketchup and with olive oil.
Dr Joseph Cheriyan, consultant clinical pharmacologist & physician at Addenbrooke’s Hospital and Associate Lecturer at the University of Cambridge, said: “There’s a wealth of research that suggests that the Mediterranean diet — which includes lycopene found in tomatoes and other fruit as a component — is good for our cardiovascular health. But so far, it’s been a mystery what the underlying mechanisms could be.”
The study consisted of a medical trial where 36 patients were provided with a Ateneron, (a supplement containing 7 mg of lycopene), or a placebo pill. None of the study participants or researchers dispensing pills were aware which treatment was provided. The cardiovascular disease patients were receiving statins designed to lower cholesterol but still showed impaired function of the inner lining of their blood vessels compared to healthy volunteers. The optimal functioning of the inner lining of blood vessels called endothelial functioning protects against future heart disease.
The researchers determined that supplementation with lycopene improved and normalized the function of blood vessels in 53 % of heart disease patients impacting on the endothelial cells. There was no impact on healthy volunteers.
“We’ve shown quite clearly that lycopene improves the function of blood vessels in cardiovascular disease patients,” said Dr Cheriyan. “It reinforces the need for a healthy diet in people at risk from heart disease and stroke. A daily ‘tomato pill’ is not a substitute for other treatments, but may provide added benefits when taken alongside other medication. However, we cannot answer if this may reduce heart disease — this would need much larger trials to investigate outcomes more carefully.”
Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Impaired endothelial function is a known predictor of increased risk of future heart disease. Further work is needed to understand whether the beneficial effects seen in this small study translate into clinical benefit for at-risk patients.”
Parag R. Gajendragadkar, Annette Hubsch, Kaisa M. Mäki-Petäjä, Martin Serg, Ian B. Wilkinson, Joseph Cheriyan. Effects of Oral Lycopene Supplementation on Vascular Function in Patients with Cardiovascular Disease and Healthy Volunteers: A Randomised Controlled Trial. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (6): e99070 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0099070