Tomatoes, particularly when eaten as part of a Mediterranean-style diet, have an array of anti-ageing properties, new research in the UK reveals.
The research has once again identified lycopene, a key nutrient in tomatoes and other red vegetables and fruits, as the principle source of the health benefits, after trials with a supplement.
They discovered the following:
- lycopene boosts the elasticity and efficiency of blood vessels, reducing the hardening of the arteries, which occurs with age and improves blood flow
- The supplement used in the study, brand name Ateronon, was shown to improve flexibility of blood vessels by up to 50%.
- Ateronon was shown to dramatically improve the function of the cells of the endothelium, the layer of cells lining the blood vessels, in the group of patients suffering from heart disease.
The Mediterranean diet, in which large amounts of vegetables are eaten, allows populations in Southern Europe to live up to ten years longer than their Northern counterparts.
The research team from Cambridge University has found that taking Ateronon, a newly developed version of lycopene, improves absorption into the blood to levels way above those naturally achieved by a Mediterranean diet.
The scientists used Ateronon, a lycopene supplement, for the research and it was shown to improve flexibility of blood vessels by up to 50%. Not only that but lycopene will help revolutionise the treatment of heart disease and circulatory disease, the biggest causes of death and disease in Britain. Every year 180,000 people die from heart attacks and 49,000 from strokes, with medication for sufferers costing a further £2bn every year.
The two-month study compared the effect of Ateronon on 36 patients with pre-existing heart disease, who were already taking cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, and 36 healthy volunteers. Both groups had an average age of 67 and comparable blood pressure readings, though those with heart disease already had noticeable blood vessel damage.
Ateronon was shown to dramatically improve the function of the cells of the endothelium, the layer of cells lining the blood vessels, in the group of patients suffering from heart disease.
Increasing blood lycopene levels boosted the endothelium’s sensitivity to nitric oxide, the gas that triggers the dilation of the blood vessels in response to exercise and demand for increased blood flow in healthy people.
If the same results can be demonstrated in more patients, Ateronon could revolutionise the treatment of heart disease. In addition, if it is scientifically proven Ateronon does have an effect on endothelial function, then it could also have a beneficial effect on virtually every inflammatory disease process, including things like arthritis or diabetes, and even slow the development of cancer, which is also linked to inflammation.
Ian Wilkinson, director of Cambridge University’s clinical trials unit, who was involved in the study, said the results suggested that Ateronon might slow down the worsening of symptoms in people already suffering from heart disease.
Peter Kirkpatrick, a leading Cambridge neurosurgeon with an interest in strokes and circulatory disease, is now medical advisor to CamNutra, the company which has developed Ateronon and which sponsored the Cambridge trial, said: “The results from this trial are far better than anything we could have hoped for.”
He added: “This was a small group, and we now need to confirm the findings in a much larger study population.”
If the results from the next round of trials are favorable, Ateronon could also offer an effective alternative to statin treatment for heart disease sufferers who cannot tolerate the cholesterol-lowering drug.
Until now however, there has not been a way of improving the natural slow absorption of lycopene by the human body.
Mediterranean populations have always enjoyed a protective effect against heart disease from their diet, and dozens of researchers have already suggested tomatoes may be the source of this protection, though until now, an explanation of the mechanism involved has remained elusive.