A high level of carotene in the blood is associated with a lower presence of atherosclerosis in the arteries and, therefore, with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. This is the conclusion of a new IDIBAPS study published in open access by the journal Clinical Nutrition.
The work was directed by Gemma Chiva-Blanch, of the IDIBAPS Translational research in diabetes, lipids and obesity group, whose leader is Josep Vidal. Chiva-Blanch is also a CIBEROBN researcher and an associate lecturer at the Open University of Catalonia Faculty of Health Sciences.
Atherosclerosis and cardiac risk
Atherosclerosis is caused by a build-up of fat, generally LDL cholesterol (so-called “bad” cholesterol), in the inner part of blood vessels. This accumulation, in the form of atheroma plaques, causes the internal diameter of the blood vessels to narrow, hindering blood flow.
Atheromatous plaques can rupture and form thrombi, which impede blood flow, causing myocardial infarctions when the blood does not reach the heart, or ischaemic strokes when it does not reach the brain.
The role of carotenes
It is well known that diet plays a key role in cardiovascular diseases. Carotenes are bioactive compounds found in yellow, orange and green fruits and vegetables (carrots, spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, orange cantaloupe melon, pimento, mango, papaya, peaches, apricots, loquat, pumpkin, etc.).
Carotenes can potentially combat atherosclerosis. “However, studies conducted to date are not conclusive and it even seems that, when administered as a supplement, carotenes have a detrimental effect”, says Chiva-Blanch.
The article published by Clinical Nutrition describes a study of 200 people aged between 50 and 70 who form part of the DIABIMCAP cohort recruited by the IDIBAPS Primary healthcare transversal research group led by Antoni Sisó-Almirall.
The volunteers who took part in the study were analysed for two parameters: concentration of carotene in the blood; and – by means of an ultrasound scan – the presence of atheroma plaques in the carotid arteries.
“The study concludes that a higher concentration of carotenes in the blood translates into a lower atherosclerotic burden, especially in women”, says Chiva-Blanch. “This leads us to confirm that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and, therefore, in carotenes, reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease”.
Bujosa F, Herreras Z, Catalán M, Pinyol M, Lamuela-Raventos RM, Martínez-Huélamo M, Gilabert R, Jiménez A, Ortega E, Chiva-Blanch G. Total carotene plasma concentrations are inversely associated with atherosclerotic plaque burden: A post-hoc analysis of the DIABIMCAP cohort. Clin Nutr. 2023 May 13:S0261-5614(23)00147-4. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2023.05.005. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 37230851.