Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in Western societies and accounts for up to a third of all deaths worldwide. In comparison to the Northern European or other Western countries, the Mediterranean area has lower rates of mortality from cardiovascular diseases and cancer, and this is attributed, at least in part, to the so-called Mediterranean diet, which is rich in plantderived bioactive phytochemicals. Identification of the active constituents of the Mediterranean diet is therefore crucial to the formulation of appropriate dietary guidelines.
Lycopene is a natural carotenoid found in tomato, an essential component of the Mediterranean diet, which, although belonging to the carotenoid family, does not have pro-vitamin A activity but many other biochemical functions as an antioxidant scavenger, hypolipaemic agent, inhibitor of pro-inflammatory and pro-thrombotic factors, thus potentially of benefit in CVD.
In particular, the review intends to conduct a systematic analysis of the literature (epidemiological studies and interventional trials) in order to critically evaluate the association between lycopene (or tomato products) supplementation and cardiovascular diseases and/or cardiovascular disease risk factors progression, and to prepare provision of evidence-based guidelines for patients and clinicians. Several reports have appeared in support of the role of lycopene in the prevention of CVD, mostly based on epidemiological studies showing a dose-response relationship between lycopene and CVD. A less clear and more complex picture emerges from the interventional trials, where several works have reported conflicting results. Although many aspects of lycopene in vivo metabolism, functions and clinical indications remain to be clarified, supplementation of low doses of lycopene has been already suggested as a preventive measure for contrasting and ameliorating many aspects of CVD.