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High Lycopene Levels in Women Associated with Low Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

Boston MA, 27 January 2004
Source: Vitamin Nutrition Information Service

According to a study in this month's American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, women with the highest plasma levels of the antioxidant lycopene had a 34 percent reduced risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), compared to women with lower plasma levels of the nutrient [1]. The study also showed that the women with highest levels of plasma lycopene were likely to have high values of other beneficial carotenoids such as lutein/zeaxanthin and alpha- and beta-carotene.

The data, as reported by study leader Howard Sesso, ScD, MPH, of the Harvard School of Public Health, were derived from the ongoing Women's Health Study. This ongoing, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial has been following 40,000 women, who were free from cancer or CVD at the start of the study, for the past 11 years. After nearly five years of follow-up, the researchers recorded 483 cases of CVD. This is the second published report on the association of lycopene and cardiovascular disease exclusively in women.

Study Findings

Subjects in the study were divided into four groups, in order of increasing plasma lycopene levels. Researchers then reviewed the data for associations with the presence of cardiovascular disease. The 34 percent reduction was found in the women in the top two quarters—those with plasma lycopene levels higher than the study population average. In addition, after excluding women with angina, those with plasma lycopene values in the top three quarters had a 50 percent reduced risk of CVD. Women in the second quarter were still 22 percent less likely to develop CVD than women in the first quarter, who had the lowest plasma lycopene values.

According to the data, consumption of more dietary lycopene is significantly related to higher plasma lycopene levels. Women with the highest plasma lycopene values (greater than or equal to 21.0 ug/dl) were consuming nearly 10 milligrams (mg) (plus/minus 6 mg) of lycopene per day.

Related Information

This report follows another publication from July 2003 in which Dr. Sesso reported in the Journal of Nutrition that women with the highest intake of lycopene-rich tomato-based foods had a reduced risk for CVD compared to women with low intake of those foods [2].

Additionally, a larger group of studies have found similar promising results in terms of heart disease, though they did not focus on women alone.

  • The European Study of Antioxidants, Myocardial Infarction and Cancer of the Breast (EURAMIC) studied adipose tissue for lycopene concentration and risk for CVD in men. EURAMIC found that men with the highest levels of lycopene in their adipose tissue were 48 percent less likely to develop CVD [3].

  • The Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor study found that low serum lycopene levels were associated with increased risk of heart attack and stroke[4].

Dietary intake of lycopene has been directly associated with lycopene levels found in plasma [5]. Half of the American population is getting 3.6 mg or less of lycopene per day [6].

Cardiovascular disease includes high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, myocardial infarction, angina, congestive heart failure and stroke [7]. Thirty-two million women have some form of CVD as compared to 30 million men. One in five males and females has some form of CVD.

More about the study

To view the abstract of this study, visit the website of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: www.ajcn.org.


  1. Sesso H, et al. Plasma lycopene, other carotenoids, and retinol and the risk of cardiovascular disease in women. Am J Clin Nutr 2004; 79: 47-53
  2. Sesso H, et al. Dietary lycopene, tomato-based food products, and cardiovascular disease in women. J Nutr 2003; 133(7):2336-41.
  3. Kohlmeier L, et al. Lycopene and myocardial infarction risk in the EURAMIC study. Am J Epidemiol 1997; 146:618-26.
  4. Rissanen TH, et al. Serum lycopene concentrations and carotid atherosclerosis: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. Am J Clin Nutr 2003; 77:133-8.
  5. Mayne ST, et al. Plasma lycopene concentrations in humans are determined by lycopene intake, plasma cholesterol concentrations and selected demographic factors. J Nutr 1999; 129: 849-54.
  6. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. CSFII 1994-96. Food Surveys Research Group Home Page. www.sun.arsrin.gov/ars/Beltsville/barc/bhnrc/foodsurvey/home.
  7. American Heart Association. Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics Update - 2003. Dallas TX: American Heart Association; 2002. (C)2002, American Heart Association.

Vitamin Nutrition Information Service

This information is provided by the Vitamin Nutrition Information Service (VNIS). Started in 1979 and supported now by DSM Nutritionals, the VNIS is a source of accurate and credible vitamin information for health professionals, educators and communicators. The VNIS monitors and disseminates vitamin research, sponsors professional symposia on current vitamin topics and generates materials to educate professionals about the roles of vitamins in health.


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