Lycopene is a nutrient found in bright red fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, red peppers, and watermelon. It's well known for its role in preventing prostate cancer. But now we know lycopene may also protect you against heart disease.
In a new study, Korean researchers measured blood levels of lycopene in a group of women between the ages of 31 and 75. Then they took a close look at the women's arteries using a special test called the brachial-ankle pulse wave velocity. This test measures stiffness in your arteries. If your arteries are stiff, you're more prone to atherosclerosis, which can lead to heart attack or stroke.
The researchers found that women with the highest lycopene levels in their blood had the least stiffness in their arteries. Women with the lowest lycopene levels had the most stiffness. Interestingly, women with the highest amount of lycopene in their blood also had lower LDL (or bad) cholesterol and C-reactive protein (another marker doctors use to assess heart health).
With results like that, you'd think heart specialists everywhere would hand out tomatoes instead of Zocor to their patients.
Well—let's get real. You may not ever see that happen in your lifetime. But you can take matters into your own hands. I recommend making sure your multivitamin contains at least 3 mg of lycopene. Plus, make sure to get plenty of red fruits and vegetables into your diet.
And remember, unlike other nutrients that diminish when you cook them, lycopene get stronger when it's cooked. So if you want to get more bang for your buck, cook your tomatoes in a little olive oil. This will improve your body's absorption of the lycopene.