Higher levels of lycopene in the blood are associated with lower stiffness in the arteries, says a new study supporting the heart health benefits of the carotenoid.
Women with the highest levels of lycopene also had the lowest levels of oxidized LDL-cholesterol, according to a study with 264 women published in the journal Atherosclerosis.
Oxidation of LDLs is thought to play an important role in the development of atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. Increasing LDL's resistance to oxidation is thought to possibly delay the progression of the disease.
“Our finding suggests that serum concentrations of lycopene may play a important role in the early stage of atherosclerosis,” wrote the researchers, led by Jong Ho Lee from the Department of Food and Nutrition at Yonsei University in South Korea.
“In addition, a reduced oxidative modification of LDL such as low oxidised LDL concentration and large LDL particle size may be one of the mechanisms by which lycopene could reduce arterial stiffness and the risk of CVD,” they added.
Growing science and market for lycopene
Lycopene is an antioxidant that is present in red- and pink-coloured fruits and vegetables. It has been shown to have heart, blood pressure, prostate, osteoporosis, skin and other benefits in both natural and synthetic forms.
As well as being used as a food colouring, it has also used for its functional properties in food supplements and some food and beverage products, particularly those targeting the ‘beauty-from-within’ market.
According to Mintel’s Global New Products Database (GNPD), globally there were 418 global lycopene product launches between 2003 and 2009 in foods, supplements and cosmetics. There have been 83 launches so far in 2009.
The Korean researchers recruited women aged between 31 and 75 and took blood samples in order to measure their blood levels of lycopene, as well as other carotenoids. Arterial stiffness was measured using brachial-ankle pulse wave velocity (baPWV).
According to their results, women with the highest average lycopene blood levels (more than 0.0431 millimoles per litre) had the lowest baPWV values, compared to people with the lowest average lycopene blood levels (less that 0.0342 mmol/L).
Furthermore, these women also had lower oxidised LDL levels, as well as larger LDL particles.
Levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation, were also lower in the women with the highest lycopene levels.
“This result is in line with previous reports that lycopene showed superior antioxidant capability or trend of a decreased atherosclerotic risk compared with other antioxidant such as beta-carotene both in vitro and in humans,” said the researchers.
Published online ahead of print, 13 August 2009, doi: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2009.08.009
“Independent inverse relationship between serum lycopene concentration and arterial stiffness”
Authors: H.Y. Yoe, O.Y. Kim, H.J. Kim, J.K. Paik, J.Y. Park, J.Y. Kim, S.-H. Lee, J.H. Lee, K.P. Lee, Y. Jang, J.H. Lee