MONDAY, Oct. 8, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Eating tomatoes and tomato-based foods appears to be associated with a lower risk of stroke, a new study indicates.
Tomatoes are rich in the antioxidant lycopene.
Researchers checked blood levels of lycopene in more than 1,000 Finnish men, aged 46 to 65 at the start of the study, and then followed them for an average of 12 years. During the follow-up period, 67 of the men had a stroke.
Overall, men with the highest lycopene levels were 55 percent less likely to have a stroke (11 of 259) than those with the lowest levels of the antioxidant (25 of 258). When the researchers focused only on strokes caused by blood clots, they found that men with the highest lycopene levels were 59 percent less likely to have a stroke than those with the lowest levels.
The investigators found no association between stroke risk and blood levels of the antioxidants alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, alpha-tocopherol and retinol, according to the report published in the Oct. 9 issue of the journal Neurology.
"This study adds to the evidence that a diet high in fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of stroke," study author Jouni Karppi, of the University of Eastern Finland, said in an American Academy of Neurology news release. "The results support the recommendation that people get more than five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, which would likely lead to a major reduction in the number of strokes worldwide, according to previous research."
Another expert agreed on the need for a healthful diet.
"This study demonstrated a direct relationship between higher concentrations of lycopene in the blood and a decreased incidence [of more than 55 percent] of stroke," said Dr. Rafael Ortiz, director of the Center for Stroke and Neuro-Endovascular Surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "Smokers had decreased levels of lycopene. Lycopene is an antioxidant, reduces inflammation, improves immune function and prevents platelet aggregation and clot formation."
Ortiz added that "the study proves that people should have a diet rich in fruits and vegetables [especially tomatoes] and avoid smoking in order to decrease the chance of having a stroke."
However, while the study found an association between higher blood levels of lycopene and lower risk of stroke, it did not prove the existence of a cause-and-effect relationship.
The National Stroke Association has more about stroke prevention.