Tomatoes have many health benefits, but a new study finds that a daily supplement of an extract found in tomatoes may improve the function of blood vessels in patients with cardiovascular disease.
Lycopene - a powerful antioxidant that is 10 times more potent than vitamin E - is good for your heart.
"There is a wealth of research that suggests that the Mediterranean diet that includes lycopene found in tomatoes is good for our cardiovascular health. But so far, it has been a mystery what the underlying mechanisms could be," explained Joseph Cheriyan, an associate lecturer at University of Cambridge.
One component of the Mediterranean diet thought to play a role in reducing cardiovascular risk is lycopene found in tomatoes and other fruits.
Its potency appears to be enhanced when it is consumed pureed in ketchup or in the presence of olive oil.
To understand the underlying mechanism, researchers carried out a randomised trial investigating the effects of lycopene.
Thirty six cardiovascular disease patients and 36 healthy volunteers were given either Ateronon pill (an off-the-shelf supplement containing seven mg of lycopene) or a placebo treatment.
The researchers found that seven mg of oral lycopene supplementation improved and normalised endothelial (inner lining of blood vessels) function in the patients but not in healthy volunteers.
Lycopene improved the widening of the blood vessels by over a half (53 per cent) compared to baseline in those taking the pill.
The supplement had no effect on blood pressure arterial stiffness or levels of lipids.
"It reinforces the need for a healthy diet in people at risk from heart disease and stroke. A daily 'tomato pill' is not a substitute for other treatments but may provide added benefits when taken alongside other medication," Cheriyan maintained.