Page last updated at 08:58 GMT, Monday, 1 June 2009 09:58 UK

Tomato pill 'beats heart disease'

Tomatoes
Tomatoes are a rich source of lycopene

Scientists say a natural supplement made from tomatoes, taken daily, can stave off heart disease and strokes.

The tomato pill contains an active ingredient from the Mediterranean diet - lycopene - that blocks "bad" LDL cholesterol that can clog the arteries.

Ateronon, made by a biotechnology spin-out company of Cambridge University, is being launched as a dietary supplement and will be sold on the high street.

Experts said more trials were needed to see how effective the treatment is.

Preliminary trials involving around 150 people with heart disease indicate that Ateronon can reduce the oxidation of harmful fats in the blood to almost zero within eight weeks, a meeting of the British Cardiovascular Society will be told at Ateronon's launch on Monday.

Our advice to heart disease patients or those at high risk is to rely on proven medications prescribed by their doctor, and aim to get the benefits of a Mediterranean diet by eating plenty of fresh fruit and veg
Professor Peter Weissberg of the British Heart Foundation

Neuroscientist Peter Kirkpatrick, who will lead a further research project at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge on behalf of Cambridge Theranostics Ltd, said the supplement could be much more effective than statin drugs that are currently used by doctors to treat high cholesterol.

But Professor Peter Weissberg of the British Heart Foundation said: "As always, we caution people to wait for any new drug or modified 'natural' product to be clinically proven to offer benefits before taking it.

"It will take some time, and several clinical trials, to provide such evidence for Ateronon.

"In the meantime, our advice to heart disease patients or those at high risk is to rely on proven medications prescribed by their doctor, and aim to get the benefits of a Mediterranean diet by eating plenty of fresh fruit and veg."

He said the British Heart Foundation had supported some of the basic science at Cambridge University underpinning the development of the product.

Professor Anthony Leeds, trustee of the cholesterol charity Heart UK, said: "The new lycopene product Ateronon represents an entirely new approach to the treatment of high blood cholesterol and opens up the exciting possibility."

He said the preliminary findings were "very promising".

Lycopene is an antioxidant contained in the skin of tomatoes which gives them their red colour. But lycopene ingested in its natural form is poorly absorbed.

Ateronon contains a refined, more readily absorbed version of lycopene that was originally developed by Nestle.

Dr Peter Coleman of The Stroke Association said: "We know that diets rich in antioxidants are beneficial in reducing the plaque build up and welcome the findings of this research."



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