Every day the human body is bombarded by free radicals in the form of processed foods, cigarette smoke, smog and stress. These are nasty compounds that attack cells - zapping energy in the body, affecting the immune system and causing oxygen damage, which can lead to destruction of the DNA. Free-radical damage affects all areas of the body including the heart. Studies have shown that antioxidants can help negate and possibly prevent free-radical damage.

Carotenoids are powerful antioxidants responsible for the yellow, orange and red coloring found in fruits and vegetables.
Lycopene, which can be found in pink and red vegetables and fruits like tomatoes, is the most prevalent carotenoid in the body. Research is showing that foods and natural dietary supplements containing lycopene can play a beneficial role in daily maintenance of a healthy heart.

A study conducted at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston suggests that a diet high in lycopene may play a role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease (CD).   Roughly 40,000 middle-aged and older women who showed no symptoms of CD were followed, and in a period of over seven years, subjects who consumed seven or more weekly servings of tomato-based foods high in
lycopene were found to have a 29% lower incidence of CD as compared to subjects eating 1.5 servings or less each week.

According to a recent study from South Korea, lycopene may improve heart health by boosting natural defenses against free radicals, protecting the body from DNA damage. It was hypothesized that increased lycopene levels from tomato extract supplements would enhance endothelial function and reduce oxidative stress in men with a diet low in fruits and vegetables. Endothelial function pertains to the operation of cells lining the blood vessels.

The study looked at a group of healthy men aged 20-60 years, who consumed less than three daily servings of fruits and vegetables and who frequently smoked cigarettes or consumed alcohol. Each man was randomly assigned to receive a placebo, a 6 mg capsule, or 15 mg capsule of lycopene per day for 8 weeks.

Super oxide dismutase (SOD) is a powerful antioxidant that helps fight damage caused by free radicals. The South Korean study found that levels of SOD activity were increased by 1.73 units per ml for the men receiving the 6 milligram supplement, while the group receiving the 15 milligram dosage experienced an increase of 2.37 units per ml. In addition, DNA damage was reduced, and endothelial function improved significantly in the group receiving the highest dosage. The group who received the placebo actually showed a decrease in SOD activity.

Research continues to emphasize the importance of lycopene to the health. In addition to a diet rich in tomato-based foods, there are some great heart-health supplements on the market, chock full of lycopene and other nutrients. Check out Go Ruby Go at the Institute for Vibrant Living. This super-healthy drink is bursting with antioxidants to naturally boost energy, strengthen the immune system and improve heart health - each serving contains 1500 mg of tomato extract in addition to many other healthy ingredients.