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Lycopene Protects Women's Heart Health

Results presented at the March 2002 annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology in Atlanta, suggest that high blood levels of Lycopene, a carotenoid-antioxidant, can reduce heart disease risk in middle-aged women by one third. The study involved tracking 1000 post-menopausal women with cardiovascular disease enrolled in the ongoing Women's Health Study. Researchers looked at data from blood levels of lycopene collected in 1992, as well as examined their diets, physical activity and cholesterol levels. However, the researchers behind the findings are treading cautiously for now, trying first to figure out whether dietary lycopene consumption directly correlates with higher blood levels of lycopene.

Several studies to date have indicated that consuming lycopene-rich tomato products reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. In a multicenter, case-controlled study of heart attack patients in 10 European countries, biopsied adipose tissue samples, used as a marker of long-term antioxidant exposure instead of blood levels, revealed that lycopene was the only protective antioxidant.1

In other research using dietary intake as a measure, University of Toronto investigators found that consuming one to two servings per day of tomato juice, spaghetti sauce and concentrated lycopene for one week doubled blood levels of lycopene, while notably lowering oxidized LDL levels.2 Lycopene is believed to slow the progression of atherosclerosis by inhibiting the oxidation of low-density lipoproteins (LDL), or the "bad" cholesterol. Meanwhile, low blood levels of carotenoids have been found to increase the risk of a second heart attack in smokers,3 as well the risk of developing and dying from coronary artery disease.4

  1. Am J Epidemiol 1997 Oct 15;146(8):618-26
  2. Lipids 1998 Oct;33(10):981-4
  3. Am J Clin Nutr 1996;63:559-65
  4. BMJ 1997;314:629-33

Key concepts: lycopene, tomato, womens heart health