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Research suggests lycopene supports cardiovascular health most effectively in combination with the other phytonutrients found naturally in the tomato, writes Golan Raz, head of Lycored’s Global Health Division.
There is no doubt that cardiovascular health can and should be improved by adjusting daily nutrition and through conscious use of the right dietary ingredients.
Research published this year shows that as of 2016, 9% of people over the age of 20 in the United States had suffered coronary heart disease, heart failure, or a stroke.1 With hypertension also factored in, 48% of U.S. adults-or 121.5 million people-had suffered some form of cardiovascular disease (CVD) as of the same year.
Smart prevention is essential. A growing body of research indicates that the possible benefits of carotenoids-the phytonutrients that give fruits, vegetables, and other organisms their vibrant hues-may be a good starting point. Carotenoids have antioxidation and anti-inflammatory qualities, which studies suggest could improve cardiovascular wellness and, as a natural result, support primary and secondary CVD prevention.2 As carotenoids cannot be produced by the human body, dietary incorporation or supplementation is a necessity.
In recent years, a significant amount of attention has been paid to lycopene, the carotenoid that gives tomatoes their red color. Lycopene has the highest antioxidant power among all carotenoids and is associated with several positive effects on cardiovascular health as well as additional essential wellness parameters.3
A recent review of the literature on lycopene’s effectiveness made a strong case for its potential benefits, with 15 out of the 23 epidemiological studies examined finding that lycopene does reduce CVD risk.4
In addition, a prior study, the EURAMIC study, which was based on data from 10 European countries, assessed the effects of antioxidants such as lycopene, alpha-tocopherol, and beta-carotene on heart attacks. Adipose tissue needle aspiration biopsies were taken from people shortly after they recovered from myocardial infarction and were analyzed for levels of phytonutrients. The study found that lycopene had the greatest cardioprotective effect.5
Previous tomato nutrient complex studies sponsored by my company, lycopene ingredients supplier Lycored (Be'er Sheva, Israel), provide further support for the advantages of natural lycopene supplementation. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study funded by Lycored on its lycopene extract, 146 healthy, normal-weight individuals were given a daily dose of either the tomato nutrient complex or a placebo over a two-week period. The tomato nutrient complex was found to increase carotenoid levels in plasma as well as reduce levels of LDL cholesterol.6
In a further Lycored-sponsored study, 126 healthy men were randomized to receive either a placebo or lycopene (either 6 mg or 15 mg) daily for eight weeks. Compared to placebo, an increase in serum lycopene after supplementation with 15 mg lycopene was found to reduce oxidative stress, which may play a role in endothelial function.7 Endothelial dysfunction is associated with most forms of CVD.8
The Synergistic Benefits of Natural Tomato Nutrients
One should note that there is, however, an important distinction to be made between synthetic lycopene and natural lycopene from tomatoes. While scientists have advised that tomato lycopene should be consumed daily as a result of its pharmacological actions and associated health benefits9, Lycored believes there is no similar evidence to show that synthetic lycopene can deliver the same advantages for the advancement of wellness and prevention of unwanted physical conditions.
Lycored’s own clinical research supports the notion that tomato lycopene is particularly effective in cutting CVD risk when it works in synergy with the other phytonutrients found naturally in the tomato. These phytonutrients include a range of carotenoids as well as phytosterols. Phytosterols themselves have been shown to favorably alter whole-body cholesterol metabolism.10
In 2003, an independent study found that women consuming greater amounts of tomato-based products per week had a lower multivariate risk of total CVD, important vascular events, and myocardial infarction, with the tomato products producing much stronger results than dietary lycopene alone.11
Lycored recently sponsored a double-blind, randomized study on blood pressure that looked at the effect of a tomato nutrient complex from Lycored containing lycopene, phytoene, phytofluene, beta-carotene, vitamin E, and other fat-soluble phytonutrients naturally present in tomatoes, suspended in tomato oleoresin oil.12 Sixty-one volunteers aged 35-60 with systolic blood pressure between 130-140 mmHg took part. They were given capsules either containing 1) the tomato nutrient complex standardized for 5, 15, or 30 mg of lycopene, 2) 15 mg of synthetic lycopene, or 3) placebo, and were instructed to take the supplements with their main meal. Daily treatment with the tomato nutrient complex containing 15 or 30 mg of lycopene was associated with statistically significant reductions in systolic blood pressure. However, similar effects were not observed for any of the other treatments. A possible explanation for the results is a role for the other phytonutrients in the tomato. This would explain the lower effectiveness of pure, synthetic lycopene, which does not contain any other tomato component.
That explanation is supported by the results of a previous study the authors carried out looking at additional physical parameters, studying the effects of lycopene and other phytonutrients present in tomato extract. That research also found that the benefits resided in the combined effects of the phytonutrients, which are synergistically higher than the activity of each compound alone.13
In 2013, an exploratory systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials looked at the effect of lycopene supplementation on oxidative stress. The review found that lycopene may alleviate oxidative stress but concluded that, on the evidence available, the consumption of natural, carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables is preferable to purified lycopene.14
Of course, cardiovascular health is not simply the result of quick fixes and minor lifestyle changes. Achieving cardiovascular wellness requires that we become aware of all aspects of wellness-mental, emotional, and physical-as a part of a healthy lifestyle. It is only by addressing all three pillars that true wellbeing can be obtained.
Golan Raz is head of Lycored’s Global Health Division (Be'er Sheva, Israel).