Men with high blood levels of lycopene — the compound that makes tomatoes red — are about half as likely to have a stroke as those low on lycopene, researchers in Finland report October 9 in Neurology.
Some evidence suggests that lycopene quells inflammation, limits cholesterol production and inhibits blood clotting. But first and foremost, lycopene is a carotenoid, an antioxidant that sops up unstable molecules in the body called free radicals —agents that can induce DNA damage, kill cells, attack proteins and contribute to blood vessel disease.
Lycopene’s direct effect on stroke risk is less clear. Studies have found that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, meaning plenty of carotenoids, seems to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. But few studies have analyzed lycopene’s effect specifically on stroke risk over time, the researchers note.
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