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By Fiona Macrae Science Correspondent

1-a-day tomato pill that helps your heart: Treatment can increase blood vessel flow by 50% in patients with cardiac problems

If you don’t like fruit and veg but want to look after your heart, scientists may have come up with the answer.

They have created a ‘tomato pill’ that is bursting with lycopene, the compound credited with many health benefits of the Mediterranean diet.

A single Ateronon pill contains as much lycopene – the pigment that gives tomatoes their rich, red colour – as more than 2lb of the fruit.

Now, Cambridge University research has shown the supplement improves blood vessel health in survivors of heart attacks and people with angina and other cardiac problems. In those who took the £1aday pill once a day for two months, vital cells that line the inside of blood vessels became healthier.

These endothelial cells are key to keeping blood moving through the body – and to warding off future heart attacks and strokes.

In those who took the lycopene, blood vessels were able to open more than 50 per cent wider by the end of the study, improving blood flow.

By the end of the study, the blood cell lining of the heart patients worked almost as well as that of healthy people.

Importantly, the improvement was seen despite the volunteers being on blood pressure pills, statins and other tablets designed to improve heart health, the journal PLOS ONE reports.

No effect was seen on the blood vessels of people who were otherwise healthy.

The pill, which can be bought on the high street and was created by scientists working for a Cambridge University spin-out company, didn’t affect blood pressure or the flexibility of the arteries.

The researchers on the blood vessel study, who aren’t connected to the manufacturer, said that despite the improvement seen, more longer-term studies are needed to show that taking Ateronon cuts the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

However, as lycopene is especially potent when mixed with olive oil, the finding could help explain by a Mediterranean-style seems so good for health.

Researcher Dr Joseph Cheriyan, of Cambridge University and the city’s Addenbrooke’s Hospital, said: ‘There's a wealth of research that suggests that the Mediterranean diet - which includes lycopene found in tomatoes and other fruit as a component - is good for our cardiovascular health.

‘But so far, it's been a mystery what the underlying mechanisms could be.

‘We've shown quite clearly that lycopene improves the function of blood vessels in cardiovascular disease patients. 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.’

The British Heart Foundation, which helped fund the study, said that more work was needed to see if the benefits seen lead to actual improvement to heart health.

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