Cardiovascular benefits of lycopene: fantasy or reality?

Frank Thies, Lynsey Margaret Mills, Susan Moir, Lindsey F. Masson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Citations (Scopus)
12 Downloads (Pure)


Epidemiological evidence indicates that high consumption of tomatoes and tomato-based products reduces the risk of chronic diseases such as CVD and cancer. Such potential benefits are often ascribed to high concentrations of lycopene present in tomato products. Mainly from the results of in vitro studies, potential biological mechanisms by which carotenoids could protect against heart disease and cancer have been suggested. These include cholesterol reduction, inhibition of oxidation processes, modulation of inflammatory markers, enhanced intercellular communication, inhibition of tumourigenesis and induction of apoptosis, metabolism to retinoids and antiangiogenic effects. However, with regard to CVD, results from intervention studies gave mixed results. Over fifty human intervention trials with lycopene supplements or tomato-based products have been conducted to date, the majority being underpowered. Many showed some beneficial effects but mostly on non-established cardiovascular risk markers such as lipid peroxidation, DNA oxidative damage, platelet activation and inflammatory markers. Only a few studies showed improvement in lipid profiles, C reactive protein and blood pressure. However, recent findings indicate that lycopene could exert cardiovascular protection by lowering HDL-associated inflammation, as well as by modulating HDL functionality towards an antiatherogenic phenotype. Furthermore, in vitro studies indicate that lycopene could modulate T lymphocyte activity, which would also inhibit atherogenic processes and confer cardiovascular protection. These findings also suggest that HDL functionality deserves further consideration as a potential early marker for CVD risk, modifiable by dietary factors such as lycopene.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)122-129
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Nutrition Society
Issue number2
Early online date9 Sep 2016
Publication statusPublished - May 2017
EventNutrition Society Scottish Section Conference on ‘Phytochemicals and health: new perspectives on plant-based nutrition’: Symposium 3: Phytochemicals for healthier foods - The Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Duration: 21 Mar 201622 Mar 2016


  • lycopene
  • cardiovascular health
  • intervention trials
  • mechanisms


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