I hope you like tomatoes.
In a recent study that looked at various antioxidant nutrients that help protect the body’s cells from damage, the superpower in terms of stroke prevention was a nutrient that’s abundant in tomatoes.
In fact, this antioxidant is what gives these plump garden beauties their appealing red coloring.
Its name is lycopene.
Now, you’ve probably heard of lycopene before because we’ve known for some time that it—and the tomatoes it comes from—can help prevent cancer and promote immune health. But you may not be aware of the new research linking lycopene to a reduced risk for stroke. So here’s the good word…
Participants included 1,031 men who were 46 to 65 years old and healthy at the start of the study. Researchers from Finland measured the men’s baseline blood levels of five antioxidants—alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lycopene, vitamin A and vitamin E—then divided the men into four quartiles based on their levels of each antioxidant. Participants were followed for a median of 12 years, during which time 67 suffered strokes.
What the data analysis revealed: Compared with men in the lowest quartile for lycopene blood levels, those in the highest quartile had 55% lower risk for stroke. This held true even after researchers adjusted for known stroke risk factors such as age, body mass index, smoking, LDL cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes.
The other four antioxidants measured did not affect the likelihood of having a stroke. This suggests that it wasn’t just an overall healthy diet that spared the men from stroke, but rather something specific to lycopene.
According to Jouni Karppi, PhD, the study’s lead researcher, there are numerous ways in which lycopene may lower stroke risk—for instance, by limiting cholesterol’s negative effects on the body…reducing inflammation…preventing blood clots…and/or improving immune function.
TOMATOES AT EVERY MEAL?
Now, this study is interesting, but it doesn’t prove that eating tomatoes lowers stroke risk—because there may have been other reasons that the men with the lowest stroke risk had the highest lycopene levels, such as differences in how peoples’ bodies process antioxidants. But even so, it still makes good sense to eat lots of fruits and vegetables—and to focus on those with abundant lycopene to help guard against stroke.
Tomatoes are the richest food source of lycopene. While raw tomatoes (such as those you toss into your salad or onto your sandwich) are excellent, it is interesting to note that cooked tomatoes may be especially beneficial. That’s because the cooking process breaks down tomato cell walls and releases even more of the lycopene. And concentrated tomato-based products, such as sauce and paste, provide particularly high levels of the nutrient.
What if tomatoes disagree with your taste buds or aggravate your acid reflux? Don’t worry. You also can get lycopene from apricots, carrots, guava, papaya, pink grapefruit, red peppers and watermelon.
It isn’t clear whether taking lycopene in supplement form would be helpful for stroke prevention. Dr. Karppi recommends getting the nutrient from food because lycopene in its natural form may be absorbed better and, with food sources, you get other important nutrients at the same time.
There’s no official recommendation on exactly how much lycopene we should get. Dr. Karppi’s advice: As a simple safeguard against stroke, consume lycopene-rich foods every day.