Eating Tomatoes May Lower Stroke Risk, Study Suggests

Tomatoes (Image courtesy of CDC Public Health Image Library)A study by Finnish researchers has found that men with relatively high blood levels of the antioxidant lycopene, commonly found in tomatoes, had a significantly lower risk of suffering a stroke over a twelve-year study period than those with low levels of lycopene in their blood.

Lycopene is found in tomatoes, red peppers, watermelon and papaya, and is the chemical that gives the reddish color to those foods. Tomatoes and tomato products are by far the largest source of lycopene in the diet.

The new study was published in the October 9, 2012 online edition of the Journal Neurology.

The Study; Method

In the study, Jouni Karppi, PhD, of the Department of Medicine, Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition at the University of Eastern Finland, and colleagues studied 1,031 Finnish men aged 46−65 years old, were were participating in a larger Finnish Heart Disease Risk Factor study

As part of the study, researchers measured the participants’ levels of lycopene, alpha-carotene and beta-carotene, and α-tocopherol (Vitamin E), and retinol (Vitamin A), and followed the men over a twelve-year period.

During the twelve-year follow-up period, the study participants suffered a combined total of 67 strokes, 50 of which were ischemic strokes. According to the American Heart Association, ischemic strokes are those characterized by clots, as opposed to hemorrhagic strokes, which are characterized by bleeds.

Using statistical analysis, the researchers studied the association between the serum concentrations of lycopene, α-carotene, β-carotene, α-tocopherol, and retinol found in the men’s blood stream, and their risk of strokes over the study period.

Findings

The researchers found that the 25% of the study participants who had the highest levels of lycopene in their blood were significantly less likely to suffer a stroke over the twelve-year study period than the 25% of participants with the lowest lycopene levels in their blood.

During the twelve-year period, the high-lycopene group suffered a total of 11 strokes, while the low-lycopene group suffered 25 strokes.

After adjustment for other major factors that could affect stroke risk, including age, BMI, systolic blood pressure, smoking, serum low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, diabetes, and history of stroke, the researchers found that the men in the high-lycopene group had a 59% lower risk of ischemic stroke and a 55% lower risk of any stroke than the men in the low-lycopene group.

The researchers did not find any association between the men’s stroke risk and their blood levels of the other nutrients that they measured (α-Carotene, β-carotene, α-tocopherol, and retinol).

Conclusions; Implications

“This prospective study shows that high serum concentrations of lycopene, as a marker of intake of tomatoes and tomato-based products, decrease the risk of any stroke and ischemic stroke in men,” the researchers concluded.

Lead study author Jouni Karppi, a researcher at the University of Eastern Finland, in Kuopio, explained to Reuters Health that “it is plausible that lycopene could have a direct effect on stroke risk.” Lycopene is a “potent antioxidant,” he said, which “helps protect body cells from damage that can ultimately lead to disease. Lab research also suggests that lycopene helps fight inflammation and blood clots – and may be better at it than certain other antioxidants.”

However, the authors point out that the study lacked data on the participants’ overall diets, which could potentially have helped explain why lycopene was found to be associated with lower stroke risk.

Dr. Karppi suggested that the study findings do support current generally accepted dietary advice that a healthy, well-balanced diet should include plenty of fruits and vegetables.

More Information

The new study report, entitled “Serum lycopene decreases the risk of stroke in men,” is available online in the October 9, 2012 online edition of the Journal Neurology.

See related HelpingYouCare® reports on:

Ninety Percent of Americans Eat Too Much Salt, CDC Reports

Your Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure with DASH: the DASH Eating Plan

Insufficient Sleep Increases Stroke Risk, New Study Finds

Dietary Trans Fats Markedly Increase Stroke Risk Among Older Women, New Study Finds

Daily Diet Soft Drinks Linked to Higher Heart Attack & Stroke Risk, New Study Finds

Eating Citrus Fruit May Lower Stroke Risk, New Study Suggests

For more information on stroke and heart disease, see the HelpingYouCare® resource pages on Heart Disease & Stroke, including

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