Tomatoes Linked to Lower Stroke Risk

Reported by Dr. Julielynn Wong:

Tomatoes are linked to a decreased risk of stroke in men, a new study finds.

The study, published Monday in the journal Neurology, involved more than 1,000 Finnish men between 46 and 65 who never had a stroke before.

These men had their blood levels of lycopene - a powerful antioxidant found in tomatoes - tested at the beginning of the study. They were followed over an average period of 12 years to see if they developed strokes.

The researchers found that men with the highest blood levels of lycopene were 55 percent less likely to have a stroke, compared to those with the lowest levels. These results held up even after adjusting for the age of the men.

"Eating tomatoes and tomato-based foods is associated with a lower risk of any stroke," said lead study author Jouni Karppi of the department of medicine at the Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition at the University of Eastern Finland. "This study adds to the evidence that a diet high in fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of stroke."

Stroke occurs when a clot blocks the brain's blood supply or a blood vessel in the brain ruptures. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year, more than 795,000 Americans have strokes, which can result in paralysis, difficulty with speech, and emotional issues. Stroke is a leading cause of death in the United States; it's estimated that every four minutes, someone dies of a stroke.

How can tomatoes and other lycopene-rich foods - such as pink grapefruits, papaya, watermelon and apricots - prevent stroke? Lycopene may help reduce stroke risk by preventing the formation of clots that obstruct the brain's blood supply, Karppi said.

What's exciting about these findings is that it's not hard to raise your lycopene levels. Tomatoes can be plentiful and cheap.

"It is easy to decrease your risk of stroke by eating tomatoes and tomato-based products," Karppi said. "The results support the recommendation that people get more than five servings of fruits and vegetables a day."

This study further supports the importance of consuming fruits and vegetables rather than nutritional supplements in the prevention of conditions like stroke and heart disease, said Dr. Lori Mosca, professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center and director of preventive cardiology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, who was not involved in the study.

"Tomato intake has also been associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer," she said, "And tomatoes may just be a secret weapon in the fight against stroke."