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Atherosclerosis. 2000 Jan;148(1):49-56.

Serum carotenoids and atherosclerosis. The Rotterdam Study.

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Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics, Erasmus University Medical School, PO Box 1738, 3000 DR, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.


High circulating levels of carotenoids have been thought to exhibit a protective function in the development of atherosclerosis. We investigated whether aortic atherosclerosis was associated with lower levels of the major serum carotenoids in alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, lycopene, and zeaxanthin-in a subsample of the elderly population of the Rotterdam Study. Aortic atherosclerosis was assessed by presence of calcified plaques of the abdominal aorta. The case-control analysis comprised 108 subjects with aortic atherosclerosis and controls. In an age- and sex-adjusted logistic regression model, serum lycopene was inversely associated with the risk of atherosclerosis. The odds ratio for the highest compared to the lowest quartile of serum lycopene was 0.55 (95% CI 0.25-1.22; p(trend)=0.13). Multivariate adjustment did not appreciably alter these results. Stratification by smoking status indicated that the inverse association between lycopene and aortic calcification was most evident in current and former smokers (OR=0.35; 95% CI 0.13-0.94; p(trend)=0.04). No association with atherosclerosis was observed for quartiles of serum concentrations of alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. In conclusion, this study provides evidence for a modest inverse association between levels of serum lycopene and presence of atherosclerosis, the association being most pronounced in current and former smokers. Our findings suggest that lycopene may play a protective role in the development of atherosclerosis.

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