Eating a diet high in fruit and vegetables has long been advocated as a healthy way to live. Scientists from the University of Eastern Finland have now revealed that tomatoes, in particular, can lower your risk of having a stroke.

What is a Stroke?
A stroke occurs when a clot in the brain blocks the flow of blood, or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. Each year more than 795,000 Americans suffer from a stroke, leaving many with after effects that include paralysis, speech difficulties and emotional issues, and they may be considered the lucky ones. Strokes are a leading cause of death in the USA with someone dying from a stroke on average every four minutes.

This in-depth study into the prevention of developing a stroke concentrated on 1031 Finnish males aged between 46 and 65 who had no history of a stroke. The study lasted 12 years and during that time, 67 participants suffered a stroke.

At the beginning of the study, the men all had their lycopene blood levels measured and this was repeated periodically throughout the study. It was found that of the 258 men with the lowest levels of lycopene, 25 had a stroke, which is slightly less than 10%. Among the 259 men with the highest concentrations of lycopene in their blood, just 11 suffered a stroke, which equates to a much lower proportion of just 4.2% of participants.

The link between lycopene levels and stroke risk was even stronger when scientists took into account those men who had an ischemic stroke (when a clot blocks the flow of blood in a blood vessel in the brain). In that case, the men with the highest level of lycopene had a 59% lower risk of an ischemic stroke than those with the lowest levels.

Why Tomatoes?
Tomatoes are high in lycopene, making them an inexpensive and adaptable way to consume lycopene on a daily basis. According to scientists from the National Center for Food Safety and Technology, eating tomatoes may protect from cancer, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease as well as from a stroke.

Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant and is the pigment that gives tomatoes their rich red color. Other foods containing high levels of lycopene include pink grapefruit, papaya, watermelon and apricots and are also beneficial in stroke prevention. Lycopene is thought to prevent the formation of clots in the brain, thereby reducing the risk of a stroke.

The researchers looked at other antioxidants such as retinol, alpha-tocopherol, alpha-carotene and beta-carotene but they appeared not to have the same preventative effect on strokes as tomatoes.

The study concluded that "eating tomatoes and tomato-based foods is associated with a lower risk of any stroke" . In addition, the study showed evidence that eating a diet with five servings or more per day of fruit and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of stroke and a better overall health.