(NaturalNews) You might just want to slice up a few extra organic tomatoes every day and throw them in your meals for added heart health, based on the findings of a new study published in the journal Neurology. Researchers out of Finland recently discovered that lycopene, a carotenoid antioxidant prominently found in red fruits and vegetables, and particularly in tomatoes, may help to dramatically reduce stroke risk in a way never before recognized.
The study initially began as an investigation into how antioxidants in general affect stroke risk. In tomatoes, such antioxidants include alpha carotene, beta carotene, alpha tocopherol, and retinol. But by the time the team was finished with its analysis, lycopene, which has most often been linked with promoting prostate and eye health, stood out as the most effective antioxidant promoter of heart health.
To make this discovery, Jouni Karppi and his colleagues at the University of Eastern Finland (UEF) followed more than 1,000 men between the ages of 46 and 55 for 12 years, tracking their blood levels of lycopene all along the way. After controlling for various outside factors that may have affected the results, the team determined that men with the highest levels of lycopene in their blood were 55 percent less likely to experience a stroke compared to those with the lowest levels.
"The shape of the lycopene molecule makes it very effective in being able to quench free radicals," says Dr. Edward Giovannucci, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. "We don't really understand it entirely yet, but lycopene may have specific properties that protect the cell in a way other antioxidants may not."
The benefits of lycopene were observed to be even stronger in protecting against strokes caused by blood clots, which are the most common types of strokes. According to the data, men with the highest levels of lycopene in their blood were 59 percent less likely to experience a blood clot-related stroke compared to those with the lowest levels.
"I recommend that people eat fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes, regularly," said Karppi in response to his team's findings. "The consumption of vegetables is good for your health anyway, in addition to whatever protection it offers against stroke."
According to a 2007 study conducted by researchers from Ohio State University (OSU), orange tomatoes tend to have more bioavailable lycopene than most red tomato varieties. Published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Science, that particular study found that orange tomatoes contain mostly tetra-cis lycopene, a unique type of lycopene that absorbs about 250 percent better than the all-trans variety commonly found in red tomatoes.