Tomato Juice May Prevent Heart Disease
Drinking tomato juice may help prevent heart disease by inhibiting the action of clot-promoting blood platelets, reports a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (2004;292:805–6). This study supports previous research suggesting that people who eat tomato products have a lower risk of suffering a heart attack.
Platelets are small cells that circulate in the blood. When a person bleeds, platelets migrate to the bleeding site and clump together (aggregate) to stop the bleeding. Platelets also aggregate within blood vessels, for various reasons. Platelet aggregation in arteries triggers a complex process that can lead to the development of hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). People with diabetes and others at high risk for heart disease often have “overactive” platelets, and platelet-inhibiting drugs such as aspirin have been found to effectively preventing heart disease and stroke in these individuals.
In the new study, a group of people with type 2 (adult onset) diabetes were randomly assigned to drink 250 ml (approximately eight ounces) of filtered tomato juice or a placebo tomato-flavored drink daily for three weeks. The participants were instructed not to change their diet during the study. The tendency of each person’s platelets to aggregate in a test tube was measured before and at the end of the supplementation period. The amount of platelet aggregation decreased by 27% in the group drinking tomato juice (a statistically significant decrease), but did not change in those given the placebo.
Thus, tomatoes can be added to the growing list of natural substances that have been shown to inhibit platelet aggregation, such as vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin B6, magnesium, taurine, fish oil, garlic, onion, and ginger. Many of these foods, herbs, and nutrients have been found in human or animal studies to reduce the risk of heart disease. Consuming large amounts of fat or refined sugar, on the other hand, increases the tendency of platelets to aggregate in some people.
Because drinking tomato juice inhibits platelet aggregation, incorporating tomato products into a healthful diet may be a simple and tasty way to reduce the risk of heart disease. It is not known, however, whether following a comprehensive diet and nutritional supplement program designed to inhibit platelet aggregation would result in the same benefit as that obtained by taking aspirin. A research study comparing the natural approach and aspirin therapy would be very important, because even small amounts of aspirin can increase the risk of intestinal bleeding, whereas the foods, herbs, and nutrients listed previously are generally considered safe.
Alan R. Gaby, MD, an expert in nutritional therapies, testified to the White House Commission on CAM upon request in December 2001. Dr. Gaby served as a member of the Ad-Hoc Advisory Panel of the National Institutes of Health Office of Alternative Medicine. He is the author of Preventing and Reversing Osteoporosis (Prima, 1994), and co-author of The Natural Pharmacy, 2nd Edition (Healthnotes, Three Rivers Press, 1999), the A–Z Guide to Drug-Herb-Vitamin Interactions (Healthnotes, Three Rivers Press, 1999), Clinical Essentials Volume 1 and 2 (Healthnotes, 2000), and The Patient’s Book of Natural Healing (Prima, 1999). A former professor at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, in Kenmore, WA, where he served as the Endowed Professor of Nutrition, Dr. Gaby is the Chief Medical Editor for Healthnotes, Inc.
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