Tomatoes Shown To Lower Stroke Risk

In a groundbreaking new study that’s sure to send health-conscious guys running to the produce market, tomatoes now are linked to lower stroke risk in men. Researchers examining the blood levels of more than 1,000 Finnish men ages 46 to 65, found that those whose blood contained the highest levels of lycopene had 55 percent less chance of suffering a stroke.

Those results, published in the October 8 issue of the journal Neurology, held true even after adjusting for the men’s age, health and other risk factors such as smoking and obesity. Because stroke is the third leading cause of death in this country, the fact that simply adding more tomatoes to your diet can add years to their life is big news for men in their middle years. Effects of lycopene on women’s stroke risk was not studied. 

The research supports, “the recommendation that people get more than five servings of fruits and vegetables a day,” study author Jouni Karppi, Ph.D. told Healthline.com, “This would likely lead to a major reduction in the number of strokes worldwide, according to previous research.”

Tomatoes and tomato-based products are particularly recommended because they, “contain more lycopene than other fruits and vegetables,” according to Dr. Karppi.

Why Lycopene?

Lycopenes are a powerful antioxidant that reduces inflammation and helps guard against the formation of blood clots that block blood flow to the brain, Jouni Karppi of the department of medicine at the Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition at the University of Eastern Finland and lead author of the study, told ABC News. “Eating tomatoes and tomato-based foods is associated with a lower risk of any stroke,” Karppi said. “This study adds to the evidence that a diet high in fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of stroke.”

The study followed the men for an average of 12 years, during which time 67 of them had a stroke. Lycopene was the only antioxidant associated with a lower risk. While researchers also checked levels of the antioxidants alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, alpha-tocopherol and retinol in the men’s blood, none of those were linked to a reduced stroke risk.

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It’s That Flashy Red Color

Tomatoes and other brightly colored fruits and vegetables are full of serum carotenoids, the yellow, orange and red pigments that give produce its vivid color and, scientists already knew, help to prevent heart disease and stroke. The Finnish study affirms that it is lycopene, the powerful red carotenoid found in tomatoes, that is most effective in avoiding strokes.

High levels of lycopene also are found in tomato-based products, such as tomato sauces and paste. “This study supports the recommendation of eating [more] servings of fruits and vegetables a day,” said Nancy Copperman, MS, RD, director of public health initiatives at the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, in an interview with MedPage Today. For a break from eating tomatoes, she recommends eating watermelon, pink grapefruit and guava, all rich in lycopene.

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Don’t Rely on Tomatoes Alone

Although tomatoes are a terrific boost to your health, they won’t prevent a stroke if your lifestyle is unhealthy. Up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented. To maximize your chances of avoiding a brain attack, follow these tips from the National Stroke Association:

  • Stop smoking. If you smoke, your risk of having a stroke is automatically doubled by raising your blood pressure and making your heart work harder.
  • Keep your cholesterol levels in the healthy range. LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, can clog your blood vessels and cause a stroke. If your overall cholesterol level is higher than 200, see a doctor.
  • Don’t over-indulge with alcohol. A number of studies link high alcohol consumption to increased stroke risk. Keep your drinking to one or two drinks per day.
  • Get some exercise—a pillar of a heart-healthy lifestyle. Even 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise, such as walking, helps keep your circulation healthy.
  • Manage your diet. Not sure how much fat, protein and grains is good for your heart? Go to www.ChooseMyPlate.gov for easy pointers.
  • Finally, cut out the salt. Most Americans eat about 3,400 mg sodium a day, yet the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend an upper limit of only 2,300 mg—and just 1,500 mg a day if you’re over 51 years of age. Read labels and season your foods with herbs and spices to cut your salt intake.

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