U.K. study finds tomato extract helps heart disease patients
A supplement of lycopene – an extract from the vegetables that is 10 times more potent than vitamin E, was given to volunteers who had the disease and it was shown to benefit them by normalizing the function of the inner lining of a blood vessel called the endothelium.
Pharmacologist and associate lecturer at Cambridge University, Dr. Joseph Cheriyan, said the study shed new light on healthy properties of certain diets.
“There’s a wealth of research that suggests that the Mediterranean diet – which included 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,” Cheriyan said.
For the study, 36 cardiovascular disease patients and 36 healthy volunteers were given either an off-the-shelf lycopene supplement or a placebo.
The results showed the supplement worked well on the patients, improving the widening the blood vessels by 53%, while it had no effect on the volunteers. Constriction of the blood vessels is one of the key factors that can lead to heart attack and stroke.
Dr. Cheriyan explained although this is a very positive first step, there is still potential for much more research to prevent these diseases in the first place.
“We’ve shown quite clearly that lycopene improves the function of blood vessels in cardiovascular disease patients. It reinforces the need for a healthy diet in people at risk from heart disease and stroke,” he said.
“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.”
Along with tomatoes, lycopene is also found in other fruits and vegetables like grapefruit, watermelon, asparagus and carrots.
The study was funded and sponsored by Cambridge University Hospitals Foundation Trust, and further support came from the Wellcome Trust, the British Heart Foundation, and the university’s Biomedical Research Centre.