Cardiovascular medications, especially those for hypertension, constitute approximately 25 percent of all prescribed medications in the world. By decreasing vascular resistance and blood flow these drugs have many side effects including blood disorders, impotence, inflammation of the liver, elevated blood glucose, increased heart rate, depression and even cancer. It turns out that the antioxidant lycopene, which is found in tomatoes and in other yellow, red, and orange vegetables, is a valuable alternative that is capable of widening blood vessels by more than 50 percent according to new research in PLOS One.
According to the new research from the University of Cambridge, a daily supplement of an extract found in tomatoes may improve the function of blood vessels in patients with cardiovascular disease, making many health experts now question the use of dangerous drugs when natural alternatives can effectively treat the same cardiovascular conditions without the side effects.
“The problem with vasodilator drugs is that they to increased heart rate and oxygen demand which contradicts treatment protocols for coronary artery disease,” said practicing cardiologist Dr. Antonio Diaz. “They do work in the short-term, but long-term use leads to retention of sodium and water which increases blood volume and cardiac output at rest, which too is a counterproductive to a patient with CAD,” he concluded.
The incidence of cardiovascular disease varies worldwide, but is notably reduced in southern Europe, where a ‘Mediterranean diet’ consisting of a larger consumption of fruit, vegetables and olive oil predominates. Recent dietary studies suggest that this diet reduces the incidence of events related to the disease, including heart attack and stroke, in patients at high cardiovascular risk, or those who have previously had the disease.
One component of the Mediterranean diet thought to play a role in reducing this risk is lycopene, a powerful antioxidant which is ten times more potent than vitamin E. Lycopene is found in tomatoes and other fruits, and its potency appears to be enhanced when it is consumed pureed, in ketchup or in the presence of olive oil.
Recent evidence has shown that just two ounces of tomato paste or a pint of juice a day could be enough to help many patients avoid dangerous statins the class of drugs commonly prescribed for these conditions which can lead to heart problems.
Researchers in Israel found that a daily dose of tomato extract helped lower blood pressure among 31 men and women with mild hypertension. On average, their systolic pressure –the top number in a blood-pressure reading –dropped 10 points, while their diastolic pressure, or bottom number, dipped four points, both statistically significant differences.
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. Cooked tomatoes are best as tests showed the body can absorb more lycopene from these than raw fruit.
Lycopene Improved Widening of Blood Vessels By Over a Half
In a study published in the journal PLOS One, researchers at the University of Cambridge and the Cambridge University Hospitals National Health Service Foundation Trust demonstrate one mechanism by which they believe lycopene reduces the risk.
Dr Joseph Cheriyan, consultant clinical pharmacologist & physician at Addenbrooke’s Hospital and Associate Lecturer at the University of Cambridge, says: “There’s a wealth of research that suggests that the Mediterranean diet — which includes 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.”
The researchers carried out a randomised, double blind, placebo controlled, interventional trial investigating the effects of lycopene a gold standard method of measuring the function of blood vessels called forearm blood flow, which is predictive of future cardiovascular risk. Thirty-six cardiovascular disease patients and thirty-six healthy volunteers were given either Ateronon (an off-the-shelf supplement containing 7mg of lycopene) or a placebo treatment. As a double blind trial, neither the study participants nor the researchers dispensing the pills were aware which treatment was being provided.
The patients with cardiovascular disease were all on statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs). However, despite this, they still had a relatively impaired function of the endothelium — the inner lining of blood vessels — compared to healthy volunteers. This function is determined by the response of blood vessels in the forearm to a naturally occurring molecule called acetylcholine. Endothelial function predicts future events, so having a healthy endothelium is an important factor in preventing the evolution of heart disease.
The researchers found that 7mg of oral lycopene supplementation improved and normalised endothelial function in the patients, but not in healthy volunteers. Lycopene improved the widening of the blood vessels by over a half (53%) compared to baseline in those taking the pill after correction for those who took the placebo; constriction of the blood vessels is one of the key factors that can lead to heart attack and stroke. However, the supplement 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,” adds Dr Cheriyan. “It reinforces the need for a healthy diet in people at risk from heart disease and stroke.”
10 Reasons To Love Your Tomatoes
1. Tomatoes are rich in a collection of phytonutrients called carotenoids. You’ve probably already heard of beta-carotene and lycopene. But there are others. And exciting research in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute shows that higher amounts of carotenoidsÃ¢â‚¬“including alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, lycopene, and total carotenoidsÃ¢â‚¬“may have a reduced risk of breast cancer.
2. According to new research in the journal Cell Biochemistry and Biophysics, scientists created diabetic conditions in animals and fed some lycopene while others were fed their typical diet free of lycopene. The biochemistry of animals fed lycopene returned to normal while the others stayed at diabetic levels. This study shows promise that lycopene (found in tomatoes) can help restore biochemical balance in diabetics.
3. New research in the journal Harvard Health Letter found that diets rich in tomatoes can help prevent stroke. The scientists chalk up the results to tomatoes’ rich lycopene content.
4. Research shows the lycopene found in tomatoes, when eaten regularly, can reduce the risk of heart disease by 29 percent. Fresh tomatoes and tomato extracts have been shown in research to lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. They have also been shown to prevent clumping in the blood (known as platelet aggregation) which is a risk factor for atherosclerosis.
5. They contain an important phytonutrient called lycopene that has been proven in studies to fight aging and have anti-cancer properties. It appears to be particularly effective against prostate and colon cancers.
6. Lycopene found in tomatoes even protects our genetic material against damage and the resulting disease.
7. Tomatoes stimulate the production of the amino acid carnitine which has been shown in research to speed the body’s fat-burning capacity by over 30 percent.
8. Excellent sources of vitamin C, tomatoes can help keep your immune system strong.
9. Lack of lycopene in a menopausal woman’s diet has been linked to osteoporosis.
10. Because tomatoes are a rich source of the phytonutrients beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, they can help improve vision and protect your eyes from degeneration.
Karen Foster is a holistic nutritionist, avid blogger, with five kids and an active lifestyle that keeps her in pursuit of the healthiest path towards a life of balance.