New perspective on the beneficial effects of lycopene in cardiovascular health

A team of scientists from the University of Aberdeen and the Robert Gordon University in the U.K. has proposed mechanisms by which lycopene confers cardiovascular protection. Their findings, which were published in the journal Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, resulted from the review of existing studies regarding the health benefits of lycopene intake.

  • The consumption of fruits and vegetables has been associated with lower risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. Unfortunately, the compounds in these foods that contribute to this effect along with their mechanisms of action have not been established.
  • Compounds that potentially contribute to the cardiovascular protective effect of fruits and vegetables include carotenoids, which are a family of red, orange, and yellow pigments. From the nearly 700 members of the carotenoid family, only lycopene, alpha- and beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, zeaxanthin, and lutein are found in large amounts in human serum.
  • Lycopene, which is commonly acquired from tomatoes, has gained much attention recently since it has been associated with reduced risk of prostate cancer and cardiovascular disease.
  • Previous studies suggest that lycopene protects against cancer and heart disease by reducing cholesterol levels, preventing tumor formation, triggering programmed cancer cell death, and preventing the formation of blood vessels. However, there are mixed results regarding this carotenoid’s intervention of cardiovascular disease.
  • In this study, the researchers reviewed existing evidence regarding the health benefits of lycopene to determine mechanisms through which it protects against cardiovascular disease.
  • They determined that lycopene possibly protects the heart by preventing tissue injury, restoring functionality of good cholesterol, reducing inflammation and oxidative damage, and inhibiting cholesterol synthesis. These effects potentially reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and heart attacks.

Overall, this study suggests that lycopene has cardioprotective effects that possibly result from various mechanisms of action and lower the risk of atherosclerosis and heart attacks.

The full text of the study is available at this link.

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Journal Reference:

Thies F, Mills LM, Moir S, Masson LF. CARDIOVASCULAR BENEFITS OF LYCOPENE: FANTASY OR REALITY? Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 9 September 2016;76(02). DOI: 10.1017/s0029665116000744

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