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Lycopene helps prevent atherosclerosis

KUOPIO, FINLAND. Several studies have concluded that high blood levels of lycopene (a cousin of beta- carotene) are associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Researchers at the University of Kuopio have just completed a study to determine if lycopene works by preventing or slowing down the progression of atherosclerosis, the forerunner of cardiovascular disease. Atherosclerosis involves a thickening of the inner wall (intima) of the arteries. It is thus possible to follow the progression of atherosclerosis by a non-invasive, ultrasonic measurement of the intima-media thickness (IMT) of the carotid arteries.

The Finnish researchers investigated the relationship between blood serum levels of lycopene and IMT in 1028 middle-aged men (aged 46-64 years). They found that men with a low lycopene level had a significantly higher IMT, i.e. a higher level of atherosclerosis. This association was particularly strong among smokers. The researchers found a strong association between a high IMT and age, systolic blood pressure, body mass index, LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. A high HDL cholesterol level, however, was associated with a smaller IMT. They point out that daily lycopene intake is extremely low in Finland (0.9 mg for women and 0.7 mg for men) as compared to the intake in the United States (6.6 mg/day). Lycopene is particularly abundant in tomatoes and tomato products.
Rissanen, TH, et al. Serum lycopene concentrations and carotid atherosclerosis: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 77, January 2003, pp. 133- 38

Editor's comment: Lycopene is a strong antioxidant and is particularly effective in quenching singlet oxygen, a potential initiator of lipid peroxidation. There is also strong evidence that lycopene helps protect against prostate cancer. I believe it is important to ensure an adequate daily intake of lycopene either through the consumption of tomatoes or tomato products or through supplementation. I personally supplement with 10 mg/day of lycopene (in a base of pumpkin seed oil).

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