A new research from the University of Cambridge has revealed that a daily supplement of an extract found in tomatoes may improve the function of blood vessels in patients with cardiovascular disease.
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.
Whilst there is strong epidemiological evidence to support the role of lycopene in reducing cardiovascular risk, the mechanism by which it does so is unclear.
In the study, 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.
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 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 percent) 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.
The study is published in the journal PLOS One.