In answer to the question of whether drinking tomato juice has a positive influence on your blood pressure level, the answer is a resounding “yes,” based in part on a recent, yearlong clinical study in Japan involving 481 men and women.
The study, published in Food Science & Nutrition, involved participants, aged between 21 and 74 years, who were supplied with as much unsalted tomato juice as they wanted (consuming an average of just under a cup of tomato juice per day) after being screened for such cardiovascular risk factors as blood pressure, glucose tolerance and their serum lipid profiles.1
At the end, new screenings revealed that 94 individuals with high and moderately high blood pressure levels, including some untreated, had significant decreases in both their systolic and diastolic blood pressure, with no other changes made in their overall lifestyles.
“Further, the serum low‐density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL‐C) level in 125 participants with untreated dyslipidemia (high levels of fat in the blood) significantly decreased.”2
Researchers identified the antioxidant lycopene as not only the natural pigment that gives tomatoes their deep red color, but the fruit’s most abundant natural carotenoid. Cooking tomatoes, for tomato paste, for example, increases their potency and bioavailability,3 and promoting increased lycopene absorption in your gut.
Other plant-based foods contain lycopene, but not nearly as much as there is in tomatoes. Other nutrients in tomatoes include flavonoids such as rutin, kaempferol and quercetin, lutein (another carotenoid), vitamin C, folate and potassium.
All of these ingredients help maintain heart health, but increasing your potassium intake may be one of the most important changes to make in your diet to lower your cardiovascular disease risk.
Further, people who have the lowest levels of lycopene in their blood have a higher increased risk for atherosclerosis, aka acute plaque buildup, and greater arterial thickness and stiffness.4 People with atherosclerosis in their carotid arteries (leading to the brain) that can be detected by ultrasound also have lower blood levels of lycopene compared with people with normal carotids.5
Additional studies show lycopene to be associated with numerous advantages for your heart, specifically strong antioxidant activity. The luscious red fruit (not the vegetable most think it is) contains many other beneficial antioxidants, including alpha tocopherol (vitamin E), alpha carotene, beta-carotene and retinol (vitamin A), but none at nearly the level of lycopene.
Lycopene for blood pressure may improve your heart, too
An Israeli study in 2001 noted that lycopene, as found in tomatoes, is also found in other fruits and vegetables. One reason it’s an effective antioxidant is because it inactivates free radicals.6 Researchers in Finland revealed that due to the abundant provision of lycopene in tomatoes and other produce, the risk of ischemic stroke could be lowered by 59%.7
Study subjects included 1,031 middle-aged men. Those with the highest levels of lycopene in their blood were found 55% less likely to have any type of stroke compared to people with the lowest amounts. For the most common type of stroke — those caused by blood clots — men were assessed as being 59% less apt to have a stroke. According to University Health News:
“This is the first study to document a decreased stroke risk with lycopene consumption, although previous observational studies have shown that lycopene consumption is associated with lower rates of heart disease and atherosclerosis, as well as with a reduced risk of dying from any cause.
Clinical trials have also shown that lycopene benefits include lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, inflammation, and oxidative stress, including free radical damage to LDL cholesterol. Since all of these harmful processes are involved in the development of strokes, the Finnish researchers’ findings come as no surprise.”8
The implications for cardiovascular disease (CVD) and its various spin-offs are enormous. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), they’re the most common cause of mortality in the world, with 15.2 million deaths recorded in 2016 alone.9
Even if it’s not terminal, CVD can cause permanent organ damage that can lead to devastating quality of life consequences, most often due to atherosclerosis, which could be called acute plaque buildup, which eventually hardens and narrows your arteries.10
Related diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure are contributors with their own implications; heart-related disorders weigh heavily on each other, so regulating your blood pressure, as well as your lipid and glucose metabolism, helps to prevent CVD development and its widespread complications.
Lycopene has even more ways to improve your health
There are plenty of studies showing that increasing your lycopene levels brings about several layers of cellular benefits, reducing incidences and even exerting a preventative effect on diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as well as cancer and Alzheimer’s. The journal Molecules11 notes several significant findings on lycopene, citing studies:
- Human plasma lycopene levels have shown an inverse association with oxidative DNA damage.12
- Previous studies have reported lycopene-rich diet and lycopene supplementation provided protective effects against DNA damage in both normal and cancerous human cells.13,14
- Consumption of lycopene-rich foods, juices or supplements has demonstrated protective effects against DNA damage in lymphocytes.15,16,17
- A high protection of lymphocytes from oxidative damage due to singlet oxygen and nitrogen dioxide was found in human subjects with higher intake of lycopene-rich tomato juice.18
- Lycopene can protect human lymphoid cells from singlet oxygen by binding to the surface of the cells.19
Lycopene captures reactive oxygen species (ROS) to prevent fats, proteins and DNA strand damage, which cause aging and higher disease risks. ROS attacks your body constantly and in many ways, some we can’t do much about and some we can, from smoking to air pollution to eating primarily processed foods. One study explains how oxidation is a factor in high blood pressure, also known as hypertension:
“ROS can play, and in fact they do it, several physiological roles (i.e., cell signaling), and they are normally generated as by-products of oxygen metabolism; despite this, environmental stressors (i.e., UV, ionizing radiations, pollutants, and heavy metals) and xenobiotics (i.e., antiblastic drugs) contribute to greatly increase ROS production, therefore causing the imbalance that leads to cell and tissue damage (oxidative stress) …
If not strictly controlled, oxidative stress can be responsible for the induction of several diseases, both chronic and degenerative, as well as speeding up body aging process and cause acute pathologies (i.e., trauma and stroke).”20
Another way high lycopene levels in your body produce dramatic, health-promoting benefits has to do with its mechanisms, and studies21 specify four ways lycopene works. It:
- Facilitates cell-to-cell communication at sites called “gap junctions,” which are crucial for cells to stop growing at the right time, which is key for preventing the development of cancer.
- Stimulates the immune system to help destroy encroaching microorganisms and early cancer cells.
- Regulates endocrine (glandular) communication pathways.
- Regulates the cell reproductive cycle, preventing cancer development.
The problem with statins
Ischemic strokes, known for being clot related, take place when blood vessels in the brain become so narrow they’re more easily clogged by fatty deposits, aka plaque, which cuts off the blood flow to brain cells. When taking 25 mg of lycopene via both the diet and supplementation, patients with slightly elevated cholesterol were found to have comparable results in lowering cholesterol as that of statins.22
Statins, the most profitable drug ever sold, have grossed more than $1 trillion. It’s ironic, because additional studies show that people who take them die more often than people given placebos. Also ironic is the fact that evidence does not exist that proves lowering cholesterol or LDL does anything to improve anyone’s health.
As it happens, low cholesterol levels are a health concern. Cholesterol is found in every cell in your body, helping to produce cell membranes, hormones (including the sex hormones testosterone, progesterone and estrogen) and bile acids that help you digest fat.
What eating tomatoes can do for you
One way to demonstrate what lycopene can do for you is to show what happened when researchers extracted it from the diets of postmenopausal women for a month: Lutein and zeaxanthin, α and /β –carotene, glutathione peroxidase and superoxide dismutase were all significantly decreased in the women’s blood profiles. They concluded:
“Daily consumption of lycopene may be important as it acts as an antioxidant to decrease bone resorption in postmenopausal women and may therefore be beneficial in reducing the risk of osteoporosis.”23
One of the best things about the lycopene in tomatoes is that you can get the most benefit when it comes through foods, including tomato paste, tomato sauce, tomato soup, tomato juice and other lycopene-rich produce, like watermelon,24 a 2001 study notes. According to Edward Giovannucci, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health:
“Supplements may give you a purified form of lycopene, but you’re not sure you’re getting what you get from food. You may be getting the wrong form of lycopene in a supplement. There are also a lot of compounds in food that aren’t lycopene but that are similar, and some of those molecules may be part of what makes lycopene so beneficial.”25
- While they may be smaller, eating organic tomatoes rather than conventionally grown provides even more phenolic benefits.26
- When it comes to ketchup, the organic variety contains around 57% more lycopene.
- Whether they’re raw or cooked, include a healthy fat such as olive oil when you eat tomatoes since lycopene is a fat-soluble nutrient.27
- Heating tomatoes for 30 minutes at 190.4 degrees F (88 degrees C) — roughly the temperature at which you’d simmer soup on the stove — boosts absorbable lycopene levels.28
- Tomatoes are in the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen,29 which lists the top 10 fruits and vegetables containing the highest levels of pesticide residue, so if you can’t buy organic or grow your own, wash tomatoes thoroughly before eating.