How The Humble Tomato Is Now Being Hailed As Heart Medicine
Baked, sun-dried, turned into relish or fresh in salads, tomatoes are one of our favourite foods. And last week, when a dietary supplement containing condensed tomato extract was launched, it was hailed by the medical world as a heart medicine So just what are the health benefits of tomatoes and how can you make the most of lycopene in your diet?
What is lycopene?
It is the red pigment that gives tomatos their colour, and a powerful antioxidant, meaning it helps prevent natural damage and deterioration to the body's cells. 'As an antioxidant, lycopene helps prevent damage to arteries, cells and to DNA,' says Amanda James, a London-based nutritionist. 'One hundred times more powerful than Vitamin E, it counteracts inflammation which contributes to ageing and degenerative diseases such as arthritis and heart disease.'
So what can it do for me?
Clinical research has shown that lycopene helps combat heart disease, reduces the risk of certain cancers and cuts inflammation. In an analysis of 21 studies, men who ate a diet rich in uncooked tomatoes had 11 per cent reduced risk of prostate cancer, which increased to 19 per cent when tomatoes were cooked. Unlike many nutrients, lycopene becomes more powerful and easy to absorb when heated and cooked.
This unusual quality means lycopene in processed tomato products is four times more powerful than that in raw tomato. Sauces, purees and salsas also tend to be concentrated, meaning that 50g can contain the equivalent levels of lycopene as ten tomatoes. Another study found those eating lycopenerich foods had 31 per cent less risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
Published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, ‘Lycopene and Myocardial Infarction risk in the EURAMIC study’ 1997, Kohlmeier et al demonstrated the effectiveness of lycopene within the body to lower the chance of Myocardial Infarction.
The EURAMIC study was a 10-centre case study in 10 countries, that recruited incidence cases of a first acute myocardial infarction in men under 70 years of age. Of those, 81% actually participated in the study, as did 57% of their controls (men from the catchment areas).
Subcutaneous adipose tissue was taken from the buttock by needle aspiration within 3 days of the myocardial infarction. Carotenoids and tocophrol were analysed using reverse phase, high performance liquid chromatography and spectrophotometric detection. Carotenoid concentrations were based on the amount of fat in the sample. Thus, it would seem that Lycopene plays a major part in heart health. Those tested who had higher levels of Lycopene ‘naturally’ occurring in their body, had a lower risk of developing Myocardial Infarction. Therefore, by supplementing Lycopene into your diet, you may greatly decrease your risk of heart problems.
Another study published in the June 2000 issue of the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" demonstrates that lycopene may play a role in preventing heart disease and that risks of heart problems are much lower in those who have higher concentrations of lycopene in adipose tissue. Researchers at the University of Delhi compiled a list of natural products to help prevent heart disease, lycopene and tomato based products was listed in the top five. Their research, published in the May 2010 issue of "Natural Product Research," suggests that lycopene is one of the products that could have therapeutic potential.