BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS. Lycopene is, like beta-carotene, a member of the carotenoid family and is particularly abundant in tomatoes, tomato products, watermelon, pink grapefruit, apricots, and papaya. There is fairly convincing evidence that lycopene helps protect against prostate cancer. Researchers at the Harvard Medical School now report that higher blood (plasma) concentrations of lycopene are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) among women. Their study involved 28,345 female health professionals aged 45 years or better who were free of cancer and CVD at entry to the study. After an average 4.8 years of follow-up 109 of the women had suffered a heart attack, 86 an ischemic stroke, 24 hemorrhagic stroke, and 144 had developed angina pectoris. Another 33 had died from CVD while 85 had undergone angioplasty or bypass surgery for a total number of cardiovascular events of 483. The 483 cases were matched with an equal number of controls (matched by age, follow-up time, and smoking status).
The researchers analyzed blood samples from cases and controls for carotenoids, vitamin A and
cholesterol. They observed that women in the upper half of plasma lycopene content had a significant 34%
reduction in any CVD event while women with a plasma lycopene content of more than 11.7 microgram/dL
had a 50% lower risk of a CVD event (exclusive of angina) than did those with a lycopene level below 11.7
microgram/dL. Most of the dietary intake of lycopene came from tomato sauce and a total lycopene intake
of 10 mg/day or more was associated with maximum protection. Lycopene is best obtained from processed
tomato products or supplements.