Atherosclerosis, more commonly known as hardening of the arteries, can have very serious consequences such as heart attacks and strokes. While there are medications that remove some of the offending plaque from the inside of the affected arteries, not everyone wants to take drugs unless absolutely necessary. Lifestyle improvements can certainly help, but soon two other options may be available – probiotics and genetically-engineered tomatoes.

The tomatoes, created by researchers at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, were engineered to produce a peptide (an amino acid compound) known as 6F. That peptide mimics the plaque-reducing actions of ApoA-1, which is the main protein in HDL (high density lipoprotein, or “good” cholesterol).

After being freeze dried and ground up, the tomatoes were fed to a group of mice that lacked the ability to remove LDL (low density lipoprotein, or “bad” cholesterol) from their bloodstream. This made them particularly susceptible to atherosclerosis, a situation that certainly wasn’t helped by the fact that they were otherwise on a high-fat, high-calorie Western-style diet.

Although the tomatoes made up only 2.2 percent of that diet, that was apparently enough to significantly reduce the amount of atherosclerotic plaque in the animals’ arteries. The mice also showed lower levels of arterial inflammation, higher levels of HDL, more paraoxonase activity (paraoxonase is an antioxidant associated with a lower risk of heart disease), and a decrease in lysophosphatidic acid, a substance that has been shown to accelerate plaque build-up.

The 6F is reportedly much more effective than the ApoA-1 that it imitates, and can be administered simply by eating the tomatoes – it doesn’t need to be isolated or purified.

Capsules containing Lactobacillus reuteri NCIMB 30242 bacteria

Meanwhile, scientists at Montreal’s McGill University have instead been looking at using a probiotic (a bacteria that is helpful to its host) for much the same purpose. They were following up on previous research, which suggested that a formulation of Lactobacillus reuteri NCIMB 30242 bacteria could lower LDL levels.

In the new study, approximately half of a group of 127 test subjects were given two doses of L. reuteri NCIMB 30242 twice a day, for nine weeks. The rest of the subjects were given a placebo. When tested, the people receiving the probiotic were found to have LDL levels 11.6 percent lower than the placebo group.

There was also a 6.3 percent reduction in their cholesterol esters – these are cholesterol molecules that attach to fatty acids, the combination of which has been linked to heart disease. Finally, the subjects’ total cholesterol levels dropped by 9.1 percent, although their HDL (“good” cholesterol) levels remained unchanged.

At just 200 milligrams a day, the probiotic was said to be effective at doses far lower than are currently required for other cholesterol-lowering medications. Pharmaceutical company Micropharma owns the intellectual property rights to the L. reuteri NCIMB 30242 formulation, and plans to bring it to the U.S. market next year under the name of Cardioviva.

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