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June 18, 2014 at 5:26 PMComments: 0 Faves: 0

A Tomato a Day... Study Shows a Tomato Pill Reduces Heart Disease

By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

One of my favorite things about summer are fresh, home-grown tomatoes. It's hard to believe that this delicious and versatile food was once considered poisonous!

As the story goes, in 1830 Colonel Robert Gibbon stood on the Salem, Massachusetts courthouse steps with a basket of tomatoes professing that they were not poisonous. At the time, it was thought that tomatoes would turn the blood to acid and cause death. Amidst the cheers and concerns, he announced that he would eat the whole basket...and survive.  His own doctor is reported to have said, "The foolish Colonel with foam and froth at the mouth." Making history, he ate the whole basket putting the tomato on a path to become a culinary stable.

Now, pushing the tomato even further into the positive light, a recent study reports the benefits of a tomato supplement in reducing cardiovascular disease.

The Speculation

Tomatoes, along with olive oil and other fruits and vegetables, are a vital part of the Mediterranean diet - a diet shown to benefit the cardiovascular system and reduce the risk of disease. This makes sense as tomatoes contain the substance lycopene, a potent antioxidant which gives the fruit its red color. Knowing that antioxidants protect the body and may help reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, interest was directed toward that particular chemical. 

The Study

The company CamNutra with governmental grant funding from the U.S. and Great Britain set out to test the benefits of tomatoes distilled into a pill form for risk reduction in cardiovascular disease. The small study involved subjects with and without known cardiovascular disease. The groups were divided and took the tomato pill or a placebo. They were followed for several weeks and forearm blood flow was monitored. This measure, the rate of arterial blood movement through the arm, has been shown to be a predictor of future cardiovascular disease via narrowing of blood vessels. In the tomato group, forearm blood flow increased while there was no change in the placebo group. (1)

The Implications

Though the study was quite small - 72 subjects total - the results were significant. While it's still too early to draw definitive conclusions, it certainly sparks interest that tomatoes and their antioxidant lycopene can reduce risk for future cardiovascular disease caused by narrowing of blood vessels such as heart attack and stroke. Questions arise, food for thought: how much lycopene is optimal? How long should supplementation occur to confer benefit? It is also important to note that different tomato breeds have different levels of lycopene. In addition, preparing tomatoes as we do in our diet can affect the amount of lycopene in them - raw vs. stewed vs. pureed vs. catsup. And, beyond tomatoes, lycopene can be found in other sources such as pink grapefruit, apricots and watermelon. 

So, beyond the specifics, know that a diet rich in tomatoes is a delicious way to perhaps improve arterial blood flow and reduce risk of heart attack and stroke. May your tomato harvest be bountiful - in your garden or at your local farmer's market. 


1. PLOS One: Effects of Oral Lycopene Supplementation on Vascular Function in Paiteients with Cardiovascular Disease and Healthy Volunteers: A Randomised Controlled Trial

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