A so-called ‘Super Pill’ that concentrates the benefits of the Mediterranean diet could reduce the risk of strokes and heart attacks and help combat cancer, say scientists.
The Ateronon pill contains lycopene, a chemical found in tomato skin. Previous trials found it decongested arteries but further trials have found it makes patients blood vessels more efficient, by improving blood flow and softenings arteries that have become hardened with age.
Although further trials are needed to determine whether the pill can significantly reduce strokes and heart attacks, scientists are optimistic that it can actually reduce the damage caused by heart disease, The Telegraph reports.
The pill contains a modified lycopene compound which is more easily absorbed by the blood than the natural version found in tomatoes.
Dr. Ian Wilkinson, director of Cambridge University’s clinical trials unit, said: “We think these results are good news and potentially very significant, but we need more trials to see if they translate into fewer heart attacks and strokes.”
Peter Kirkpatrick, a leading Cambridge neurosurgeon with a special interest in strokes and circulatory disease and medical advisor to CamNutra, the company that developed Ateronon, added:
“It is too early to come to any firm conclusions, but the results from this trial are far better than anything we could have hoped for. This was a small group, and we now need to confirm the findings in a much larger study population.”
Initial findings from research at Cambridge University, where the pill was tested on 36 heart disease patients and 36 healthy volunteers, were presented at a meeting of the American Heart Association.
In a two-month trial Ateronon was shown to dramatically impact the functionality of the cells of the endothelium, the layer of cells lining the blood vessels, in the group of patients with heart disease.
Increasing blood lycopene levels accelerated the endothelium’s sensitivity to nitric oxide, the gas which triggers the dilation of the blood vessels in response to exercise and demand for increased blood flow in healthy people, said The Daily Mail.
In simpler terms, Ateronon, was shown to improve flexibility of blood vessels by up to 50 percent.
Further studies of Ateronon are already underway at Harvard University in Boston and more research is due to take place in the UK this year. Plans for wider trials with larger test groups to study the effects of Ateronon are now being made.
Scientists are hopeful the pill can be used as an alternative to statins for patients who cannot take existing cholesterol-lowering drugs.
David Fitzmaurice, professor of primary care clinical sciences at Birmingham University, said:
“If this modified lycopene really does have an effect on endothelial function, then it could have a beneficial effect on virtually every inflammatory disease process, including things like arthritis or diabetes.”
“It is all highly speculative at this stage, but this [modified lycopene] might even slow down the development of cancer, which is also linked to inflammation.”
Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, sounding a note of caution added:
“Although this small study showed that lycopene improved blood flow in people with heart disease, that’s a long way from demonstrating that taking lycopene could improve outcomes for people with heart disease.We still say the best way to get the benefits of a Mediterranean diet is to eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.”
Past research has already led to a belief that tomatoes in the Mediterranean diet could be the reason why heart disease in Mediterraneans is much lower.
Ateronon was initally developed from research carried out by the food multinational Nestle. Scientists there discovered a way of modifying the lycopene compound to allow it to be more easily taken into the bloodstream.
Since then, Nestle licensed the technology to CamNutra, with options to become a major shareholder in the project. A spokesman said they are monitoring the findings, The Daily Mail notes.