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Lycopene May Lower Risk of Heart Disease in Women
New York NY, 13 July 2003

Publication of a study this month in the Journal of Nutrition found that women with the highest intake of tomato-based foods, rich sources of the antioxidant lycopene, had a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease compared to women with low intake of those foods.[1] The study also showed a positive trend that the highest dietary levels of lycopene may also be protective against cardiovascular disease. The present study is the first published report on the association of lycopene levels and cardiovascular disease exclusively in women.

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, which has been following 40,000 women for the past eleven years, who were free from cancer or cardiovascular disease at the start of the study. After seven years of follow-up, the researchers recorded 719 cases of cardiovascular disease. The present study analyzed the subjects' food frequency questionnaires for associations between intake of lycopene and tomato-based foods and the risk for cardiovascular disease.

Study findings

For those women who consumed seven servings or more of tomato-based foods like tomato sauce and pizza each week, there was a nearly 30 percent risk reduction in total cardiovascular disease compared to the group with intakes of less than 1.5 servings per week. Women who ate more than 10 servings per week had an even more pronounced reduction in risk (65 percent) for specific cardiovascular disease outcomes such as heart attack or stroke.

While not statistically significant, the strongest association of dietary lycopene with cardiovascular disease protection was seen among those participants with a median dietary lycopene intake of 20.2 mg per day, who had a 33 percent reduction in risk of the disease when compared with women with the lowest dietary lycopene intake (3.3 mg/day).

Related information

These findings add to a growing body of research pertaining to lycopene and cardiovascular disease. For example, the European Study of Antioxidants, Myocardial Infarction and Cancer of the Breast (EURAMIC) studied adipose tissue for lycopene concentration and risk for cardiovascular disease. That study found that men with the highest levels of lycopene in their adipose tissue were 48 percent less likely to develop cardiovascular disease.[2] The Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor study also found that low serum lycopene levels were associated with increased risk of heart attack and stroke.[3] Prior to the latest study, twelve epidemiological studies have been published which investigated the association of lycopene plasma/serum concentrations (eleven studies) or adipose tissue levels (one study) with disease endpoints or certain biomarkers. Of these, ten studies show a statistically significant inverse correlation with lycopene and the cardiovascular disease endpoint.

Previous research has identified that lycopene has strong antioxidant properties relative to other carotenoids, colorful nutritional compounds in food.[4] In addition to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, lycopene has been shown to improve other risk factors for cardiovascular disease. For example, high levels of serum lycopene may reduce predictive markers of heart disease known as C-reactive protein in the blood.[5] In addition, lycopene may play help reduce blood levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol.[6]

Lycopene Intake:[7]

  • A recent analysis of the USDA's Continuing Survey of Food Intakes of Individuals (CSFII) showed an average lycopene intake of 10.9 mg per day.
  • Half the population is getting 3.6 mg or less per day.

Cardiovascular Disease Statistics:[8]

  • Cardiovascular disease includes high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, myocardial infarction, angina, congestive heart failure and stroke.
  • One in five males and females has some form of cardiovascular disease.
  • 32 million women have some form of cardiovascular disease as compared to 30 million men.

The abstract of this study is available at www.nutrition.org


  1. Sesso H, et al. Dietary lycopene, tomato-based food products, and cardiovascular disease in women. J Nutr 2003; 133(7):2336-41.
  2. Kohlmeier L, et al. Lycopene and myocardial infarction risk in the EURAMIC study. Am J Epidemiol 1997; 146:618-26.
  3. 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.
  4. DiMascio P, et al. Lycopene as the most efficient biological carotenoid singlet oxygen quencher. Arch Biochem Biophys 1989; 274:532-8.
  5. Kritchevsky SB, et al. Serum carotenoids and markers of inflammation in nonsmokers. Am J Epidemiol 2000; 15:1065-71.
  6. Agarwal S, et al. Tomato lycopene and low density lipoprotein oxidation: a human dietary intervention study. Lipids 1998; 33:981-4.
  7. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. CSFII 1994-96. Food Surveys Research Group Home Page.
  8. American Heart Association. Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics Update - 2003. Dallas TX: American Heart Association; 2002. (C)2002, American Heart Association.

This information is provided by the Vitamin Nutrition Information Service (VNIS). The VNIS was founded by Roche Vitamins in 1979 as 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.


Vitamin Nutrition Information Service (www.nutrition.org).end-of-story


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