These men, aged between 46 and 65 years old, were part of a larger study examining at risk factors for the development of cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke). The findings were published in the October 9, 2012’s issue of the medical journal ‘Neurology’.
When the study began, blood levels of lycopene, alpha- and beta-carotene, and Vitamins E and A of these participants were measured. 7 years later, same measurements were done for most men. The men were followed an average of 12 years.
During the follow-up period, there were 11 strokes among the one-quarter of men with the highest lycopene levels, compared to 25 among the one-quarter with the lowest levels. Even after taking into accounts of 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 study had some limitations, though. For instance, it lacked information on the men's overall diet habits that might explain why lycopene was linked to lower risk. The findings did, however, support the current advice to get plenty of fruits and vegetables, and reinforced the prevailing recommendations for people to get a well-balanced diet, with fruits and vegetables.
Lycopene is a chemical that gives a reddish hue to foods like tomatoes, red peppers, watermelon and papaya. It is a potent antioxidant that helps protect body cells from damage that can ultimately lead to disease. Research also suggested that lycopene might help fight inflammation and blood clots better than other antioxidants.
But in cutting stroke, diet does play an important role. The so-called “DASH” diet, which has been shown to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels, suggests cutting salt and getting more fiber-rich grains, nuts and legumes, and a low-fat dairy, as well as 4 to 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
In 2010, the United States updated its dietary guidelines, stating that Americans should raise their fruit and vegetable intake - at least 2 and half cups of fruits and vegetables per day can reduce risk of heart attack and stroke.