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A healthy regard for lycopene research
Lycopene Benefits & Heart Disease
More than 100,000 people die from coronary heart disease each year in the UK, making it the country’s number one health problem. Someone suffers a heart attack every 2 minutes and the death rate in the UK from this disease is one of the highest in the world.
Coronary heart disease results from atherosclerosis, a condition in which artery walls thicken as the result of a build-up of fatty materials such as cholesterol. As the coronary arteries narrow, patients will often experience chest pain or tightness, known as angina. In severe cases the blood supply can be cut off completely and a heart attack occurs. If an artery in the brain becomes blocked this can trigger a stroke to occur.
Heart Disease Research
The causes, prevention and treatment of all forms of heart disease remain active fields of biomedical research, with thousands of scientific studies published. Since the early 2000s, numerous studies have shown a link between fast food and an increase in heart disease and researchers have also shown that the so-called "Mediterranean diet" reduces the risk of heart disease. One component of the Mediterranean diet is tomatoes and many researchers have claimed that the lycopene in tomatoes is one of the keys to the heart disease benefits of the Mediterranean diet.
It is well established that oxidation of the lipids in LDL ultimately lead to heart disease. One theory is that oxidising free radicals, arising for example from pollution or smoking, cause oxidation of LDL and this leads to atherosclerosis. Further, it is suggested that reduction of such oxidation by anti-oxidants may be a way to reduce heart disease. Lycopene is one of the best anti-oxidants known and, not surprisingly, studies of lycopene as a way to fight heart disease have been of significant interest for well over 10 years. Despite many such studies rather few ‘dietary intervention’ studies have been made.
With so many trials perhaps it is not surprising a range of results are reported – almost all use different amounts of anti-oxidants, methods of assessment and, of course, risk factors may well be different depending on the country of origin of the people assessed.
"The findings from epidemiological studies support the claim that higher blood or tissue levels of lycopene or higher intake of lycopene from dietary sources are beneficial in the prevention of atherosclerosis and CVD [cardio vascular disease]. However, there are still many questions concerning the role of lycopene and tomato products in cardiovascular health and more studies will be needed to clarify this association. In addition a large intervention study would help to evaluate the relation between the intake of lycopene (or tomatoes and tomato products) and the risk of CVD."
Another important report comes from the so-called EURAMIC study. This multi-centre, multi-national trial examined the lycopene level in fat tissue against the incidence of heart attack. This study reported, for example, that men with the highest concentration of lycopene had a 48% reduction in developing heart disease compared to those with the lowest lycopene concentration.
In the fight against heart disease, it seems likely that more than one mechanism is at work. Certainly the value of lycopene as an antioxidant in the prevention of cholesterol (LDL) oxidation is likely to be important. However, evidence for other possible mechanisms is accumulating.
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