Background: Growing evidence suggests that lycopene has significant in vitro antioxidant potential. Lycopene has rarely been tested in prospective studies for its role in cardiovascular disease (CVD) prevention.
Objective: We examined the association between plasma lycopene and the risk of CVD in middle-aged and elderly women.
Design: A prospective, nested, case-control study was conducted in 39 876 women initially free of CVD and cancer in the Women's Health Study. Baseline blood samples were collected from 28 345 (71%) of the women. During a mean of 4.8 y of follow-up, we identified 483 CVD cases and 483 control subjects matched by age, smoking status, and follow-up time. Plasma lycopene, other carotenoids, retinol, and total cholesterol were measured.
Results: In analyses matched for age and smoking, with adjustment for plasma cholesterol, the relative risks (RRs) and 95% CIs of CVD in increasing quartiles of plasma lycopene were 1.00 (referent), 0.78 (95% CI: 0.55, 1.11), 0.56 (0.39, 0.82), and 0.62 (0.43, 0.90). In multivariate models, the RRs were 1.00 (referent), 0.94 (0.60, 1.49), 0.62 (0.39, 1.00), and 0.67 (0.41, 1.11); those in the upper compared with the lower half of plasma lycopene had an RR of 0.66 (0.47, 0.95). For CVD, exclusive of angina, women in the upper 3 quartiles had a significant multivariate 50% risk reduction compared with those in the lowest quartile. The stepwise addition of individual plasma carotenoids did not affect the RRs.
Conclusions: Higher plasma lycopene concentrations are associated with a lower risk of CVD in women. These findings require confirmation in other cohorts, and the determinants of plasma lycopene concentrations need to be better understood.