A Tomato A Day Keeps Stroke Away

Lycopene in tomatoes may lower stroke risk

(RxWiki News) Research has long suggested diet and lifestyle plays a role in protecting from stroke. A new study has found that eating tomatoes or tomato-rich foods such as pasta sauce or soup may reduce your stroke risk.

Tomatoes have a high content of beneficial antioxidant lycopene, which may explain why the study found that individuals who consumed a higher amount of tomato-based food had fewer strokes compared to those who ate fewer tomatoes.

"Eat at least five fruits and vegetables daily."

Jouni Karppi, PhD, a lead study author from the University of Eastern Finland, said the findings add evidence that a diet high in fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of stroke.

Dr. Karppi said the research supports the recommendation that individuals consume more than five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, which could likely reduce the total number of strokes.

During the study researchers followed 1,031 Finnish men between the ages of 46 and 65 for an average of 12 years. The level of lycopene in their blood was measured at the beginning of the study. Over the course of the study, 67 men had a stroke.

Investigators determined that men with the highest levels of lycopene in their blood were 55 percent less likely to have a stroke compared to those with the lowest levels of the antioxidant. That percentage increased to 59 percent when investigators looked at only strokes caused by blood clots.

Among men with the lowest levels of lycopene, 25 of 258 men had a stroke. In comparison, only 11 of 259 of men with the highest levels of the antioxidant in their blood had a stroke.

Sarah Samaan, MD, a cardiologist with Legacy Heart Center and co-director of the Women’s Cardiovascular Institute at the Baylor Heart Hospital, said the study adds to a growing database of those indicating that the foods we eat have a tremendous impact on health.

However, Dr. Samaan, also author of "Best Practices for a Healthy Heart: How to Stop Heart Disease Before or After It Starts," noted that it is best to gain nutrition from food as opposed to seeking out lycopene supplements.

"Tomatoes are an excellent source of many other important antioxidants, as well as vitamins and fiber," she said. "It is very likely that all these nutrients work together to help reduce stroke risk. Strokes can be fatal, but more often they are devastating and life-altering. It's exciting to know that by simply making smart choices about the food we eat we may greatly reduce our risk."

Researchers examined other antioxidants including alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, alpha-tocopherol and retinol, but found no association.

The study, funded by Lapland Central Hospital, was recently published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

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Review Date: 
October 3, 2012