Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading health problems in the world. Recent estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that cardiovascular disease accounts for nearly 610,000 deaths every year. This shows that there is an urgent need for easy and accessible ways to protect the heart.
Many healthcare professionals recommend eating large amounts of fruits and vegetables to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Although this claim is backed by scientific evidence, the specific compounds in these foods that confer cardiovascular protection, as well as their mechanisms of action, have not been established. Carotenoids are a family of red, orange, and yellow pigments that have been associated with cardioprotective effects. There are over 700 pigments in the carotenoid family. However, only lycopene, alpha- and beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, zeaxanthin, and lutein are found in large amounts in human serum.
Lycopene, which is commonly found in tomatoes, has recently gained much attention in the scientific community. This is because studies have associated it with a reduced risk of prostate cancer and cardiovascular disease. A team of researchers from the University of Aberdeen and the Robert Gordon University in the U.K. reviewed existing evidence on the health benefits of lycopene. From this, they proposed mechanisms through which the carotenoid confers cardiovascular protection. The researchers published their findings in the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society.
Overall, this study suggests that lycopene has cardioprotective effects that possibly result from various mechanisms of action and lower the risk of atherosclerosis and heart attacks.
Countless studies have suggested that lycopene protects against heart disease and cancer by reducing cholesterol levels, inhibiting oxidative stress, modulating inflammatory markers, facilitating intercellular communication, preventing tumor formation, triggering programmed cell death, and blocking blood vessel formation. Unfortunately, intervention studies on cardiovascular disease and lycopene have given mixed results.