A new study suggests that lycopene intake may be linked to a reduced risk for heart disease.
Lycopene is a carotenoid present in human serum and skin as well as the liver, adrenal glands, lungs, prostate and colon. Lycopene has been found to possess antioxidant and antiproliferative properties in animal and laboratory studies, although activity in humans remains controversial.
Humans obtain dietary lycopene primarily from tomatoes and tomato-based products. Lycopene is also found in apricots, pink grapefruit, guava, guava juice, rose hip puree, palm oil and watermelon.
Numerous studies correlate high intake of lycopene-containing foods or high lycopene serum levels with reduced incidence of cancer, cardiovascular disease and macular degeneration. However, estimates of lycopene consumption have been primarily based on reported tomato intake, not on the use of lycopene supplements. Since tomatoes are sources of other nutrients, including vitamin C, folate and potassium, it is not clear that lycopene itself is beneficial.
In a recent study, researchers evaluated data collected from the Framingham Offspring Study to assess the potential association between lycopene intake and heart disease risk.
Throughout 10 years, 314 cardiovascular disease cases, 171 coronary heart disease cases and 99 stroke cases were identified. The researchers found that lycopene intake was associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease. A link between lycopene intake and stroke risk was lacking.
Although promising, the authors noted that it is still unclear if lycopene or other nutrients in tomatoes may be the cause of this reduced risk. Further research is warranted.
Jacques PF, Lyass A, Massaro JM, Vasan RS, D'Agostino Sr RB.
"Relationship of lycopene intake and consumption of tomato products to
incident CVD," British Journal of Nutrition. 2013 Jan 15:1-7.