Abundant intake of tomatoes rich in the nutrient lycopene reduces the risk of congestive heart failure in people with gum disease, according to a recent report from the University of Mississippi Medical Center School of Dentistry.*
Abundant in tomatoes and red fruits like watermelon, lycopene is a potent antioxidant and one of the most prevalent carotenoid nutrients in the Western diet and in human blood serum. Previous research has suggested that lycopene offers protection against heart disease and certain cancers, but its potential role in congestive heart failure has not been carefully examined.
In their study examining data from more than 30,000 men and women enrolled in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III), researchers analyzed dietary and blood laboratory data of participants with periodontitis (gum disease) in relation to their medical history of congestive heart failure. In subjects with periodontitis, monthly dietary intake of fewer than nine tomatoes raised the risk of congestive heart failure by 2-3.5 times, and intake of less than three tomatoes increased risk even more. Above-average serum levels of lycopene significantly reduced the risk of congestive heart failure. Higher levels of serum lycopene also were correlated with lower levels of C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker associated with cardiovascular disease risk.
The study authors concluded that periodontitis is related to risk of congestive heart failure, and that high intake of tomatoes may mitigate this risk. While lycopene may facilitate this risk reduction, possibly by reducing levels of C-reactive protein, other beneficial nutrients found in tomatoes—such as vitamins C and A, folate, potassium, and bioflavonoids—may may also contribute to tomatoes’ heart-protective benefits in those with gum disease.
—Nelson Wood, DMD, DSc, MS