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Tomatoes instead of aspirin?



Blood platelets are just one of the important clotting agents in the bloodstream. For those with heart disease, we know that in many cases reducing blood platelet activity by taking daily doses of aspirin or Plavix® can help prevent further heart attacks. This treatment can also help reduce the incidence of stroke by up to 30% in those who have had a cerebral infarction (stroke) or transient ischemic event (sometimes called mini-strokes). It's been suggested that all persons over 55 might benefit from a daily dose of an antiplatelet agent like aspirin or Plavix, but the side effects, which include gastric bleeding and stroke, outweigh the benefits.

A team of researchers in Manchester, UK, have been working on an alternative: tomato extract. They had found in a previous study that in a controlled environment, tomato extracts acted as an antiplatelet agent. To confirm their findings, they needed to test tomato extracts on healthy volunteers (Am J Clin Nutr 2006;84(3):561-9).

90 healthy volunteers between the ages of 45 and 70 were recruited to participate who had no history of blood disorders and had normal blood platelet function. Those who were taking dietary supplements, such as primrose oil or fish oils, were excluded, and the participants were instructed to avoid taking medications that affected platelet function (such as aspirin) for ten days before the study period as well as during the study period.

Each subject gave two blood samples, three hours apart, once a week for three weeks. After the first blood sample was taken, each subject was given a flavored juice drink of one of three varieties: A control drink, containing no tomato extract; a drink containing the equivalent of the extract of 2 tomatoes; or a drink containing the extract of 6 tomatoes. The drink was flavored so that the subjects could not tell by taste whether there was tomato extract in the drink. The subjects' blood was drawn again three hours after drinking the supplement, and their blood platelet activity was measured in both samples and compared.

They found that in over half of the men, and slightly fewer women, the tomato extract drink containing the extract of 2 tomatoes inhibited blood platelet activity - a result that's similar to the effectiveness of aspirin. The stronger extract drink had a greater effect than the 2 tomato extract supplement, and overall men seemed to respond more to either tomato-containing drink than women.

What this means for you:

This is a very encouraging study, although it's too soon to quit taking your aspirin or Plavix in favor of eating tomatoes. Besides, who needs an excuse to eat tomatoes? Make your own pasta sauce (from canned or fresh tomatoes) and enjoy!