The highest average intakes of lycopene were linked to a 17 and 26% reduction in the incidence of cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease, respectively, according to findings published in the British Journal of Nutrition.
Lycopene is an antioxidant that is present in red- and pink-colored fruits and vegetables. As well as being used as a food coloring, it is also used in supplements. The role of lycopene in heart health and in reducing the risk of certain cancers is supported by a body of research.
“The present study of lycopene and incident CVD adds to the accumulating evidence that lycopene is related to CVD risk,” wrote researchers led by Paul Jacques from the Jean Mayer US Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University.
“However, tomatoes and tomato-based products are by far the most important dietary sources of lycopene in observational studies, and most human lycopene trials are performed using tomato-based interventions.
“Thus, it is difficult to separate out the potential lycopene contribution to cardiovascular health from the overall contribution from tomato products and their other components.”
The new study – an epidemiological analysis that indicates correlation and not causation – used data from the Framingham Offspring Study. Data was available for 314 people with CVD, 171 people with CHD, and 99 people with stroke. The average lycopene intake for the cohort was 7.9 milligrams per day.
After crunching the numbers, Jacques and his co-workers calculated that lycopene intake was inversely associated with a 17% reduction in CVD incidence and a 26%% decrease in CHD incidence, but no association was observed for lycopene intake and stroke incidence, they said.
Commenting on the other tomato compounds that may confer potential heart health benefits, Jacques and his co-workers noted that tomatoes also contain 9-oxo-10,12-octadecadienoic acid and its isomers, and natural salicylates, all of which have been reported to offer cardiovascular benefits.
The dietary levels of salicylates provided by tomato products, however, may not be sufficient to produce the heart benefits observed, they said.
“Additional research is needed to sort out the potential benefits of tomatoes and their phytochemical components on CVD risk.”
Source: British Journal of Nutrition
Published online ahead of print, FirstView Articles, doi: 10.1017/S0007114512005417
“Relationship of lycopene intake and consumption of tomato products to incident CVD”
Authors: P.F. Jacques, A. Lyass, J.M. Massaro, R.S. Vasan, R.B. D'Agostino Sr