"There's a wealth of research that suggests that the Mediterranean diet - which includes lycopene found in tomatoes and other fruit as a component - is good for our cardiovascular health," stated lead researcher Joseph Cheriyan, who is a consultant clinical pharmacologist and physician at Addenbrooke's Hospital and Associate Lecturer at the University of Cambridge.
"But so far, it's been a mystery what the underlying mechanisms could be."
Endothelial dysfunction occurs when the inner lining of the blood vessels fails to dilate or constrict properly, and is believed to be involved in the development of atherosclerosis.
In a double-blind trial, Dr Cheriyan
and colleagues randomized 36 cardiovascular disease patients treated with statin drugs and an equal number of healthy control subjects to receive 7 milligrams oral lycopene per day or a placebo for two months.
Forearm blood flow assessments of endothelium dependent and independent vasodilation, and basal nitric oxide synthase activity were conducted before and after treatment.
Endothelial-dependent vasodilation improved by 53% among those in the cardiovascular disease group who received lycopene.
Although it averaged 30% lower in cardiovascular disease patients in comparison with healthy volunteers at the beginning of the study, by the end of the treatment period the endothelial-dependent vasodilation of participants with cardiovascular disease who received lycopene was comparable to that of the healthy subjects at the study's onset.
"We've shown quite clearly that lycopene improves the function of blood vessels in cardiovascular disease patients," Dr Cheriyan