Lycopene-Rich Tomatoes Could Lower Your Stroke Risk
By studying more than 1,000 men over 12 years, Finnish researchers have shown that higher rates of lycopene (found in tomatoes) in your diet can lower rates of stroke.
-- by Nina Lincoff
An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but as it turns out, a tomato (or two, or three, or five), could be even better. It's a well-known fact that eating fruits and vegetables is a good safeguard for your health. If fact, eating fruits and vegetables high in serum carotenoids—yellow, orange, and red plant pigments—is associated with lower risks of certain diseases, such as stroke.
To find out which carotenoids affect stroke incidence in men, Finnish researchers studied a population of 1,031 men ages 46-65 and observed the correlation between blood serum concentrations of the major carotenoids—lycopene a-carotene, b-carotene, and a-tocopherol—and the rate of stroke. After 12 years, high serum concentrations of lycopene decreased the risk of stroke in men more than high serum concentrations of any other major carotenoid.
Lycopene is a red carotenoid—the red plant pigment found in high concentrations in tomatoes and tomato-based products.
The Expert Take
Study author Jouni Karrpi, PhD, said in an email to Healthline that his study supports, “the recommendation that people get more than five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. This would likely lead to a major reduction in the number of strokes worldwide, according to previous research.” Tomatoes and tomato-based products, vibrantly red in color and high in lycopene, are also recommended because they, “contain more lycopene than other fruits and vegetables,” according to Dr. Karrpi.
Although study authors only observed men, Karrpi says the findings suggest that women could also benefit from increasing their intake of fruits and vegetables high in lycopene, although further research is needed to confirm this hypothesis.
The Bottom Line
After 12 years of follow-up observation and treatment, researchers found that men with the highest serum lycopene concentrations had a 55 percent and 59 percent lower risk of ischemic stroke or any stroke respectively. Ischemic stroke—caused by blocked arteries leading to the brain—accounts for 85 percent of all strokes.
This doesn’t mean, however, that lycopene is an impenetrable defense against strokes. Researchers found that cases of stroke still tended to increase with common risk factors, such as age and diabetes, and that good stroke prevention measures, such as regular physical activity, a lower body mass index (BMI) score, and not smoking, held true throughout the study.
What does this mean for your dinner table? The link between lycopene and low stroke incidence supports recommendations for eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. For those men who are at risk of stroke, eating fruits and vegetables high in lycopene, such as tomatoes and tomato-based products, could be beneficial. However, since the population observed in this study were men ages 46-65, we don't know how lycopene affects stroke incidence in women and younger men.
Chances are, a Caprese salad (light on the mozzarella) probably wouldn’t hurt. Or lycopene capsules, says Dr. Karrpi.
Source and Method
Researchers observed more than 1,000 men participating in the Kuopio Ischemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study over the course of 12 years. These men lived in Kuopio, Finland or the surrounding rural communities. By analyzing blood samples, researchers divided the participants into quartiles based on serum concentrations of lycopene a-carotene, b-carotene, and a-tocopherol and monitored them throughout the study.
Over the course of the study, 50 participants experienced ischemic stroke and 67 participants experienced any stroke. Overall, men with the highest levels of serum lycopene were younger, smoked less, were more physically active, and had higher concentrations of other carotenoids in their blood as well.
There are few previous studies that examine the link between dietary carotenoids like lycopene and the incidence of stroke. However, a 1999 study by the Harvard School of Public Health found that a high intake of leafy green vegetables and citrus fruits and juices helps protect against ischemic stroke.
In 2006, researchers in London found that consuming more than five servings of fruits and vegetables a day is recommended for lowering the risk of stroke.