A Tomato pill to keep heart healthy (Simon Cocks/Flickr)Simon Cocks/Flickr

A team of British scientists have found a tomato pill highly effective in protecting heart against deadly diseases.

In their study, regular intake of ateronon, a supplement that contains 7 mg of lycopene, helped to improve blood vessel function in people affected with cardiovascular diseases. Lycopene is a chemical found in red colored fruits and vegetables, including carrots, tomato and watermelon.

Several studies in the past have highlighted unlimited health benefits associated with Mediterranean diet, including its ability to fight diseases like diabetes, hypertension, stroke and heart attacks. Researchers from the University of Cambridge found that an antioxidant present in the diet called lycopene mainly helped this occurrence. They said that the chemical is ten times more effective than vitamin E and gives the maximum results when combined with olive oil or when taken in a pureed form or ketchup. Though previous studies have also found cardiovascular benefits associated with the chemical, researchers were not very clear about the actual mechanism that helped this occurrence.

The study looked at 72 people, including cardiovascular patients and healthy people. During the study, all cardiovascular patients were taking cholesterol lowering drugs known as statins. Irrespective of their statin intake, majority of the cardiovascular patients had relatively damaged endothelium function. Endothelium is the inner lining of the blood vessels that plays a huge role in preventing heart diseases. During the study, the participants received either the ateronon pill or a placebo.

At the end of the study, the cardiovascular group achieved considerable improvement in their endothelial function. The supplements also helped widen blood vessels by 53 percent.

"We've shown quite clearly that lycopene improves the function of blood vessels in cardiovascular disease patients," Dr Joseph Cheriyan, consultant clinical pharmacologist & physician at Addenbrooke's Hospital and Associate Lecturer at the University of Cambridge, said in a news release. "It reinforces the need for a healthy diet in people at risk from heart disease and stroke. A daily 'tomato pill' is not a substitute for other treatments, but may provide added benefits when taken alongside other medication."

Findings of the study have been reported in PLOS One.

Lycopene is also found in other fruits and vegetables including mangoes, papaya, grapefruit, carrots, guava, asparagus, red cabbage, red pepper, watermelon and rose hips.

Importance of lycopene rich foods has been a favourite topic of research recently. Similar to the current study, another study presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology in Chicago, last week, reported that lycopene rich foods help to protect against the risk of developing kidney disease.