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.
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.
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In this study, the researchers suggest that increasing lycopene intake can lower inflammatory markers, reduce oxidation of bad cholesterol, and modulate functionality of good cholesterol. These effects reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and myocardial infarction or heart attack. Moreover, lycopene can modulate T lymphocyte activity, which contributes to inflammation and consequently cardiovascular disease.
Overall, the findings of this study suggest that lycopene employs various mechanisms of action to confer cardioprotective effects, which consequently prevent atherosclerosis and heart attack. (Related: Prevent heart attacks by eating more carrots, sweet potato, and tomatoes.)
Other health benefits of lycopene
If this isn’t enough to convince you to increase your lycopene intake, here are some of the other health benefits that you can enjoy from this carotenoid:
Lycopene prevents oxidative stress — Lycopene has potent antioxidant activity so it can help keep your free radical levels in check. This is important since too many free radicals contribute to oxidative stress, which has been associated with chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.
Lycopene reduces cancer risk — Studies have shown that lycopene prevents the growth of lung and prostate cancer cells by up to 50 percent. High intake of lycopene also slows down the growth of tumors in the breast and kidneys.
Lycopene protects against sunburn — High consumption of lycopene protects the skin from damage caused by the harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun. Moreover, lycopene reduces skin redness after UV exposure by up to 50 percent.
Lycopene improves eyesight — As a person ages, they become more susceptible to cataracts and macular degeneration, which can progress into blindness. Increasing your lycopene intake can help you prevent or delay these diseases so that you can keep your eyesight for longer.
Additional sources of lycopene
Tomatoes are the primary source of lycopene, accounting for more than 80 percent of lycopene intake in the west. If you want to consider other sources, here is a list of delicious lycopene-rich food sources that you can also go for:
Sweet red peppers
Read more news articles on how you can take care of your heart by visiting Heart.news.