The reported instances of cardiovascular disease varies world wide and it is the UK's single biggest killer, resulting in 200 deaths per day. The Mediterranean diet has been researched for many years and is credited with reducing the risk of heart disease. This is supported by the fact that instances of poor cardiovascular health are noticeably lower in the Mediterranean region of southern Europe. The Mediterranean diet consists of a large amount of fruit, vegetables and olive oil, all beneficial to health. It has also been speculated that the key ingredient could be the red wine consumption, however recent research is increasingly pointing towards lycopene.
What is lycopene?
Lycopene is a bright red pigment which is found in tomatoes and other foods - it is the chemical substance which gives tomatoes their rich red colour. It is estimated that 80% of lycopene consumed in peoples' diets comes from tomatoes or tomato based products such as tomato ketchup, spaghetti sauce and tomato purée. Cooked tomatoes are believed to be the best sources.
Effects on cardiovascular health
Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant - scientific studies have shown it may help reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease by reducing LDL ('bad') cholesterol and lowering blood pressure.
In a very recent study on the 9th June 2014 researchers from Cambridge University published a clinical research article on lycopene supplementation which consisted of a double blind trial (none of the patients knew what they were taking) of 36 people taking statins and 36 otherwise healthy people.
The conclusion of the study found that lycopene supplementation improves 'endothelial function' in patients with pre-existing cardiovascular disease but did not affect healthy people. Having a healthy endothelial function (blood vessel function) is an important factor in preventing the development of heart disease, and constriction of blood vessels is one of the factors attributed to strokes and heart attacks.
Statins and treatment of cardiovascular disease
In the Cambridge University study all the patients with pre-existing cardiovascular disease were already taking statins to lower their cholesterol levels however they still had an impaired 'endothelial function' - the evidence suggests that the supplementation with lycopene may compliment statin medication.
A healthy diet is once again recommended
The scientific study showed clearly that "lycopene improves the function of blood vessels" in patients with cardiovascular disease. A healthy diet is reinforced to people at risk of heart disease and stroke as a key factor in reducing the risk of developing heart disease or suffering a stroke. It cannot yet be proven that lycopene can prevent heart disease as research is ongoing, however it has been found to provide benefits to people alongside statin medication.