Thursday, October 11, 2012

Eating tomatoes associated with lower risk for stroke

Everybody knows eating vegetables and fruit is healthy. But not my many long-term studies are performed to see what the actual health effects are of regularly eating a certain type of green. We know it is healthy, but to what extent? And how much do we actually need to eat to reasonably lower the risk of undesirable health outcomes? A study performed by Finnish scientists gives an interesting example regarding the analysis of health effects due to fruit or vegetable consumption, by linking tomatoes to a reduced risk of stroke.

To investigate the health effects of tomato consumption, the scientists set up a study in which they enrolled 1031 men from Finland. Why females were excluded is eluded from the announcement. Over time, the incidence of stroke and other serious medical events were recorded and linked to the level of lycopene in the blood; this is a substance known to be highly prevalent in tomatoes. This means tomato consumption was not directly measured, and it is of course possible that lycopene found in the body of participants was derived from other types of food. Nevertheless, it is a good way to measure the prospect that eating tomatoes has.
After a total follow-up time of 12 years, the researchers noted that 67 men had gotten a stroke at some time during the study. Statistical analysis revealed that the incidence of stroke could be related to levels of lycopene. Those who were considered to have high levels of the substance were found to have a 59 percent smaller chance of getting a stroke. This seems like a rather dramatic decrease in risk, but the stroke numbers are probably too small to accurately assess the effect.

Lycopene is known as a potent anti-oxidant. Such chemicals function by ridding the body of so-called free radicals; atoms or molecules that are produced due to various bodily processes. Because free radicals damage everything they come into contact with, anti-oxidants have been deemed as important for the body, but so far it has proven to be hard to link an artificially induced increase in anti-oxidant level to beneficial health effects. Though, theoretically, it is beneficial to consume food that contains high level of these substances, of which tomatoes are an example, being rich in lycopene.

The scientists were trying to link prevalence of anti-oxidants to incidence of cardiovascular diseases, which means the link to food was only established after analyzing the results. That is why these results should be seen as hypothesis-generating for future research in which the effect of food intake is more accurately assessed. Additionally, enrolling just a thousand men from a single country makes for results that are not generalizable: to assess the complex relationships between food intake and health effects, a much larger study is required. Because a rather dramatic decrease in stroke incidence was noted in the study, this does warrant further investigation.

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