July 10, 2000
Tomatoes cut risk of heart disease and stroke
A newly discovered component of tomatoes could help cut the huge number of deaths from heart disease and strokes by reducing the formation of harmful blood clots, according to scientists at the Rowett Research Institute.
Eating fruit and vegetables, including tomatoes, is already known to help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke but, until now, the effect was attributed largely to antioxidants, such as vitamin C or lycopene. It could be that the new 'tomato factor' is a further reason why the typical Mediterranean diet is linked to lower death rates from cardiovascular disease.
Senior scientist at the Aberdeen-based Institute, Professor Asim Dutta-Roy and his team discovered that the 'tomato factor', codenamed P3, has a different effect from antioxidants. P3 is found in the yellow juice around tomato seeds and stops platelet cells in the blood clumping together. It is this aggregation of platelets which triggers the cascade of reactions leading to blood clot formation (thrombosis).
Professor Dutta-Roy explained: "The aggregation of platelets is fundamental in thrombosis and arteriosclerosis. Coronary artery thrombosis is still the most common cause of premature death in the developed world with as many as 30 per cent of deaths caused in this way. Heart attacks, strokes and blood vessel problems resulting from thrombosis currently kill or disable more people in developed countries than any other disease.
"Anti-platelet therapy in the form of aspirin is already routine in patients with some conditions. However, aspirin has side effects which can cause stomach upsets and bleeding. Other anti-platelet drugs are also available but they can be expensive and they are not used at an early stage to protect against cardiovascular disease. Finding a safe anti-platelet therapy that can be used to both prevent and treat these problems is, therefore, a priority," added Professor Dutta-Roy.
Tests of P3 at the Rowett Research Institute have already shown it works. In a small study of volunteers, P3 from as few as four tomatoes reduced platelet activity by up to 72 per cent. The effect on the platelets was temporary so P3 did not cause the bleeding problems that can be associated with other treatments.
Tomatoes are the best source of P3, but the factor is also found in strawberries, grapefruit and melon. Now, Professor Dutta-Roy plans to carry out larger scale studies of P3 and investigate whether it can be developed in a capsule form to be used as a dietary supplement.
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