A “Tomato Pill” Might Revive Blood Flow

Cardiovascular health may improve with lycopene supplement

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) The Mediterranean diet, which consists largely of fruits, vegetables and olive oil, has been shown to boost heart health. Tomatoes, in particular, contain an ingredient that may help fight heart problems.

Tomatoes, which are a common staple in Mediterranean meals, are rich in lycopene. As a powerful antioxidant, lycopene is believed to produce an anti-inflammatory effect in the body.

Recently, scientists found that taking a lycopene supplement might boost blood vessel function in people with cardiovascular disease.

"Follow a diet rich in fruits and vegetables to benefit heart."

Joseph Cheriyan, MD, a consultant clinical pharmacologist and physician at Addenbrooke's Hospital and Associate Lecturer at the University of Cambridge in England, and colleagues tested the effect of lycopene supplementation on patients with cardiovascular disease.

Over the course of two months, 36 patients with heart disease and 36 healthy individuals received either a daily 7-milligram dose of lycopene (brand name product Ateronon) or placebo (mock supplement). Although the heart patients were also taking cholesterol-lowering statins, they still had impaired endothelium (the lining inside blood vessels) compared to the healthy control group.

Dr. Cheriyan and team measured blood vessel function in these participants through forearm blood flow, a technique used to evaluate endothelium health and predict cardiovascular risk.

These researchers observed that the heart patients who took lycopene had improved or normalized endothelial function, while the supplement appeared to have no effect on healthy volunteers.

Heart patients taking the supplement experienced a widening of blood vessels of over 50 percent compared to the measure at the start of the study. Lycopene, however, had no effect on blood pressure, arterial stiffness or levels of lipids.

"We've shown quite clearly that lycopene improves the function of blood vessels in cardiovascular disease patients," said Dr Cheriyan in a statement. "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."

Lycopene, which gives tomatoes their red color, is a carotenoid (organic pigment) that is also found in apricots, pink grapefruit, guava, guava juice, palm oil and watermelon. As an antioxidant, lycopene counteracts the damaging effects of oxidation, a process that takes place in body tissue. Vitamin E is another potent antioxidant, but lycopene may be up to 10 times more powerful than vitamin E, according to some research.

Previous studies have tied consumption of lycopene-rich foods to a reduced risk of cancer, macular degeneration, heart attack and stroke.

This study by Dr. Cheriyan and colleagues was published June 9 in the journal PLOS ONE.

The research was funded and sponsored by Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, with further support from the Wellcome Trust, the British Heart Foundation and the National Institute of Health Research Cambridge Comprehensive Biomedical Research Centre. Cambridge Theranostics donated medications and placebo to the study. Ateronon, a food supplement, is a registered trademark of CamNutra. The authors acknowledged unrestricted educational donations made by Cambridge Theranostics and CamNutra to Addenbrooke's Charitable Trust. The donations were unrelated to the trial, which was not funded by either company.

Review Date: 
June 9, 2014
Last Updated:
March 16, 2015