Tomatoes may help reduce stroke risk
October 8th, 2012
04:01 PM ET

Tomatoes may help reduce stroke risk

Eating tomatoes in your daily salad or regularly enjoying a healthy red sauce on your spaghetti could help reduce your risk of stroke, according to research published this week in the journal Neurology. 

Tomatoes contain a powerful antioxidant that is good for brain health, the researchers say, and cooked tomatoes seem to offer more protection than raw.   

"This study adds to the evidence that a diet high in fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of stroke," says study author Jouni Karppi, of the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio. "A diet containing tomatoes... a few times a week would be good for our health. However, daily intake of tomatoes may give better protection." 

Karppi says it's the chemical lycopene that gives tomatoes and other fruits/vegetables their rich red color, that is helping to protect the brain. Tomatoes are particularly high in the powerful antioxidant that acts like a sponge, soaking up rogue molecules called free radicals that if left unchecked can damage cells. 

The study

Researchers tested the level of lycopene in the blood of more than 1,000 Finnish men aged 46 to 65, starting in 1991. Scientists then followed the men on average for more than a decade to record the number who had strokes.

The scientists found that those with the highest levels of lycopene were 55% less likely to have a stroke than those with the lowest amounts in their blood. 


Though the study looks promising, experts say that we can't necessarily give all of the credit to lycopene. 

"It's a compelling study and it fits with other data that we have about risk of stroke and vegetable and fruit consumption," explains Dr. Daniel Labovitz, director of the Stern Stroke Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. "But it's not proof that if you eat tomatoes you're going to have less risk of stroke."  

Labovitz also points out that the group of men who had fewer strokes were younger, had lower blood pressure and smoked less than the group more prone to stroke. Though the researchers tried to take these lifestyle factors into account when calculating their findings, it may be that these things influenced the outcomes. 

In other words, perhaps better health habits - not necessarily just the lycopene - lead to fewer strokes.

More on lycopene

Lycopene has attracted a lot of attention in recent years because it's such a powerful antioxidant. If we don't eat enough lycopene-packed foods, experts suspect too many free radicals get left in the body, damaging blood vessels by helping to form fatty deposits. When these deposits build up, a blockage forms. If that vessel is in the brain, the blockage can cause a stroke.   

But the foods we eat are complex and filled with many nutrients, making it tough to prove what is really providing benefits.

"Eating tomatoes is a good thing, but we don't know if there is really anything unique about tomatoes apart from other fruits and vegetables that reduce stroke risk," explains Dr. Walter Willett, chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts.    

Tomatoes could contribute to reducing stroke in other ways, Willett says, because they are a good source of potassium, which is known to reduce blood pressure. Elevated blood pressure is major risk factor for stroke.     

Take home message

So are lycopene packed tomatoes really the magic fruit? It seems the jury is still out, but researchers suggest we eat healthy as they continue to search for answers.   

"This is one more reason to consume fruits and vegetables - at least 5 a day - and it's good to include tomatoes in that mix," Willett said.

soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. gatorgut

    lycopene makes you appear robust and generally more attractive. I like tomatoes and I am glad that this article supports them. I never really understood the anti tomato band wagon. But question, why only men? Seems like 500 men and a separate study of 500 women would have been just as solid.

    October 9, 2012 at 04:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kris

      I have had some limited experience in scientific studies, both using animal and humans. I think this would be due to a couple things, mostly to control variabilities in the sample population. Women have many more variables in their every day lives, including pregnancies, hormones such as birth control pills or HRTs, products used in every day lives, etc... that may affect their risk of stroke. Most studies in animals start with a controlled population such as albino white rats or rabbits that are bread for genetic "sameness". The other major thing that influences studies is financing. Expanding the studies to include a more variable population would be the next step, which would of course require funding.

      After twenty years as a chemist in the pharmaceutical research industry, your point is very pertinent to my biggest complaint. That is that most funding decisions have been made by men, for men, etc.... Women's health issues have always been a second consideration. You make a very good point.

      October 10, 2012 at 03:53 | Report abuse |
  2. Rotten tomatoes

    "... the group of men who had fewer strokes were younger, had lower blood pressure and smoked less than the group more prone to stroke."

    ... completely invalidating test results. Why would they need to cook the numbers by testing a selective group?

    October 9, 2012 at 08:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SixDegrees

      Uh – that's how things turned out after the study was complete. They didn't pick a group of young non-smokers with low blood pressure and put them in a special group; the group who had fewer strokes simply shared those characteristics.

      Get it?

      October 10, 2012 at 03:30 | Report abuse |
  3. sk

    Strange, I came home from a quick and distracted stop at the grocery yesterday with tomato soup, tomato sauce, v8, and salsa in my bag. My body must be trying to tell me something.

    October 9, 2012 at 11:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Mary Kate

    Pizza! P-i-z-z-a!

    October 9, 2012 at 12:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Primal 4 Life

    Not eating the pasta would be far better for protecting ones health.

    October 9, 2012 at 12:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Drbs

      Some things like your tmoato problem can be fixed by fiddling with the camera use a tripod and a longer exposure so the colors are more saturated, for instance, or endless fiddling with the white balance.My guess is that some of the problems with digital cameras vs film are due to stupid things where the designers tweaked things in one direction to compensate for something most users would do wrong, but did so in a way that seriously messes up certain other situations. For example, sometimes camera manufacturers anticipate that and really overdo it on the red. The effect is that that you see bright reds as very flat right up to #FF0000 and stopping there over a large area, because they have pumped it up (I don't remember why they do this).My camera is also sometimes weird with violets, which makes me really want to find objects that are truly violet to test it on (i.e. high-frequency wavelength, not a mix of blue and red).Really, it's a technology-still-distinguishable-from-magic problem. My fear is that the restricted gamuts of monitors are covering for the restricted abilities of cameras, and consumers are just putting up with it.

      November 14, 2012 at 05:31 | Report abuse |
  6. FiveLIters

    I am in no way one of those people shouting "organic"! at everything,but you can definitely taste the difference between tomatoes grown in your neighbors garden (you know,the ones that they grow too many of and you reap the benefits,lol) vs. the store-bought ones. Love those in salads,sandwiches,etc. so this is good news!

    October 10, 2012 at 14:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Alicia

    We have been hearing about the health benefits of tomatoes, specifically lycopene, for a while now. And although Natural Standard has only given lycopene an evidence grade of C for most indications, including antioxidant, atherosclerosis, and immune-mediation, so many promising studies have come out that this may change. I agree with the authors that we cannot give all of the credit to lycopene. Environmental and genetic factors come into play, especially in an observational study that was conducted for over a decade. However, any little bit helps, and if this is motivation to incorporate more fruits and vegetables in your diet, then that is excellent. There are so many health benefits to healthy eating, and it is a major determinant in one's overall health. Keep up the great research!

    October 11, 2012 at 16:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. eric shion


    October 16, 2012 at 09:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nick

      You are my hero

      October 25, 2012 at 13:24 | Report abuse |
  9. thechangegoth

    good news, tomato is good for your blood also. 🙂

    October 20, 2012 at 10:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Cecilia

    I don't know what it is about Rotel exactly but I use it a LOT. I add it to vgletabee soups, almost any casserole that has cheese and chicken (it seems) and so many other things.My sister-in-law makes this absolutely wonderful chicken spaghetti with Rotel, cream of mushroom, Velveeta, chicken and a bit of milk to make it creamy and mixed with spaghetti noodles that is so yummy. OK, it's not real good for you maybe with the Velveeta but it is good.

    November 16, 2012 at 01:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. mark

    http://igg.me/p/268225?a=357694 Make this happen, it is so worth it.

    November 17, 2012 at 02:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Garden-nz.co.nz

    It's true! tomatoes contain a powerful antioxidant that is good for brain health and reduce stroke risk. Impressive post.

    January 5, 2013 at 06:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. trendsworld

    Heart Strokes in Youth increased for more information


    The percentage of heart strokes in the people are increasing
    day-by-day especially in the young people because of their food habits.
    In 1993, the heart strokes were 13% among the people aged below 55 and
    now the percentage increased to 18%in…

    January 22, 2013 at 10:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. DW

    According to Natural Standard database, lycopene has been linked to lower incidence of cancer, eye disorders related to age, and cardiovascular disease. This study appears to support the idea of lower stroke risk in relation to levels of lycopene. However, it should be noted that the caveats of this study have the potential to affect the results significantly because blood pressure, age, and smoking all contribute to stroke risk.

    September 26, 2013 at 16:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Jeffrey Alan Landry

    Tomatoes are awesome but remember when you cook them they become acidic. The longer you cook them the more acidic they become, so if you have stomach problems of any kind just eat them raw or slightly cooked to release nutrients.

    February 15, 2014 at 22:36 | Report abuse | Reply
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