Men who love their tomatoes may have a lower risk of suffering a stroke, a new study suggests.
Finnish researchers found that of more than 1,000 older men they followed, those with relatively high blood levels of the antioxidant lycopene were less likely to have a stroke over 12 years.
Lycopene is a chemical that gives a reddish hue to foods like tomatoes, red peppers, watermelon and papaya. For most people, tomatoes and tomato products are by far the biggest source of lycopene in the diet.
But the study, published in the journal Neurology, does not prove that tomatoes and ketchup can cut anyone's stroke risk. There may be other things about men with high lycopene levels, unmeasured in this study, which could explain the lower stroke risk.
The study included 1,031 men ages 46 to 65 who had their blood levels of lycopene, alpha- and beta-carotene, and vitamins E and A measured.
Over the next 12 years, there were 11 strokes among the one-quarter of men with the highest lycopene levels; that compared with 25 among the one-quarter with the lowest levels.
The researchers then accounted for some major factors that affect stroke risk, like smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes. The high-lycopene group still had a 55 percent lower risk of suffering a stroke. The other nutrients were not linked to men's stroke risk.
Lycopene is a potent antioxidant, which helps protect body cells from damage that can ultimately lead to disease. Lab research also suggests that lycopene helps fight inflammation and blood clots - and may be better at it than certain other antioxidants.
But the current study lacked some critical information - like the men's overall diet habits - that might help explain why lycopene was linked to a lower stroke risk.
Even so, these findings reinforce the current recommendations for people to eat a well-balanced diet, with plenty of fruits and vegetables.
The best example of a diet that might curb your stroke risk is the "DASH" diet that experts generally recommend for lowering blood pressure and protecting your heart. The diet advocates cutting salt and getting more fibre-rich grains, nuts and legumes, and low-fat dairy. The diet also calls for plenty of fruits and vegetables: four to five servings of each per day.
Source: Neurology, online October 8, 2012.
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