10 Comments »Posted on Sunday 7 June 2009 at 4:18 pm by Sam Wong
In Health & Medicine

This week saw the launch of a new pill called Ateronon which, according to the press release, ‘is expected to revolutionise approaches to heart health’. Ateronon, we are told, ‘is the first formula proven to halt the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, recognized as the key process of atherosclerotic build-up’. The active ingredient is lycopene, a pigment that occurs naturally in tomatoes. Lycopene isn’t very absorbable, but Nestle discovered that it can be made more absorbable by combining it with whey protein to make ‘lactolycopene’.

The new pill has been developed under license from Nestle by Cambridge Theranostics Ltd. The promotional material talks a lot about the legendary Mediterranean diet, which has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease. Because it’s made entirely from naturally occurring ingredients, it’s being treated as a food supplement and not a drug, meaning much less rigorous testing. Ateronon will be available over the counter from next month.

Does it work? Presumably they’ve published some research showing that it does. I put ‘ateronon’ into PubMed.

Your search for ateronon retrieved no results. However, a search for ‘afternoon’ retrieved the following [5500] items.

I decided to leave trawling through those results to find out whether the afternoon can prevent heart disease for another day. I tried ‘lactolycopene’ instead. Two results, one of which was relevant: a 2002 paper, looking at 33 people, which found that you get a similar amount of lycopene from the lactolycopene supplement as you get from tomato paste.

Evidence that lactolycopene could prevent heart attacks and strokes remained elusive, so I tried getting hold of Cambridge Theranostics. I didn’t get an answer, so I tried their PR company, and someone helpfully sent me some documents. One was an ‘expert report’ by Prof Alf A. Lindberg, dated 2006. It describes a pilot phase I study of 18 people with angina. After two months of taking lactolycopene, lipoprotein oxidation (a biochemical process linked with atherosclerosis) was blocked in all 18 patients. Seventeen of them showed clinical improvements, as measured by a questionnaire.

Another document they sent me described two studies by Dovgalevsky and Petyaev which involved giving lactolycopene to coronary heart disease patients. One had 12 subjects, the other 10. In both studies, lipoprotein oxidation was blocked in patients given lactolycopene. The patients also experienced ‘improvements in the clinical status as assessed by a validated clinical questionnaire’.

So the evidence for Ateronon’s efficacy is three small studies in which taking lactolycopene led to reduced lipoprotein oxidation and clinical improvements measured by a questionnaire. None of the studies tested more than 18 people. None of the studies tested healthy people. None of the studies tested whether lactolycopene can prevent heart attacks, strokes, or any actual disease. None of the studies has been published in a peer-review journal. Perhaps most criminally, none of the studies compared lactolycopene with another drug or a placebo.

Maybe lactolycopene can prevent atherosclerosis. In fact I very much hope it does. But at the moment, the claims being made for Ateronon have not come close to being proven.


  1. 10 Comments

  2. Have you seen any adverts for this pill? What direct health benefits are they claiming?

    By Jacob Aron on Sunday 7 June, 2009 at 4:46 pm

  3. The promotional material for Ateronon is carefully worded to avoid explicitly saying that it prevents atherosclerosis, heart attack or stroke, although it very strongly implies that. They do say that it is clinically proven to prevent LDL cholesterol oxidation. In my view this can’t be clinically proven without a large randomised placebo-controlled trial.

    The news media have been less careful what they claim for Ateronon.
    Daily Mail: ‘The tomato pill that can protect your heart’ ‘A daily pill to prevent heart disease and stroke’ ‘it was hailed by the medical world as a heart medicine’ ‘found to reduce the damage inflicted by LDL cholesterol’
    Fox News: ‘[it] would slash cholesterol levels’
    Telegraph: ‘Tomato compound used to stave off heart disease’

    By Sam Wong on Sunday 7 June, 2009 at 5:43 pm

  4. Sounds like a case for Paracetamoxyfrusebendroneomycin

    By katie goates on Monday 8 June, 2009 at 11:43 pm

  5. Cardiologists were impressed by the fabulous launch at the british cardiovascular society recently, but a lot less impressed by the lack of controlled trials looking at its benefits in patient populations.

    It would seem there is now sufficient evidence to conduct appropriately controlled and powered clinical trials

    Our advice is keep taking the real thing – (fresh fruit and vegetables have lots of evidence of benefit ….) until we get good data to support the use of this most interesting chemical.

    By Edward Leatham on Tuesday 16 June, 2009 at 10:29 pm

  6. While new drugs are only released for use after lengthy trials, this food supplement is available immediately. For those at risk of disease from arterial damage, and who can afford the steep prices, this pill offers hope of slowing or reversing the arterial damage which we are told begins at the age of 20. Now 61, I have decided to try it for a year or two while waiting for the results of further trials. I may waste a few hundred quid, but it’s worth the risk.

    By Anthony Clark on Sunday 19 July, 2009 at 2:07 pm

  7. It is not forbidden too to eat some delicious olive oil-cooked tomatoes each day like in the mediterranean diet…

    By Alain Cordier on Tuesday 11 August, 2009 at 9:57 am

  8. No body seems to have mentioned the claimed benefits of lycopene on the prostate I shall try it for a year and hope for a double benefit.

    By ted welstead on Thursday 27 August, 2009 at 10:12 am

  9. How could the effect be determined? I mean, which index in the regular blood test should we expect it to change?

    By Grace Lee on Thursday 17 September, 2009 at 4:27 am

  10. “…which found that you get a similar amount of lycopene from the lactolycopene supplement as you get from tomato paste.”———- Really?
    That is a pretty ambiguous comparison . A more cogent and useful analogy would’ve been : How much of the Ateronon supplement (gm/kg/etc) needs to be taken to have an equivalent measurable effect compared to what amount (one 8 oz can/100 8oz cans/1000 cans/etc) of tomato paste ? And what kind/variety of tomatoes were used to make the paste? A specific variety , or just a mix or?? In what manner were the tomatoes grown, harvested, ,canned etc etc…
    You cited published research studies previously ,why stop now?
    This kind of fluff “scientific journalism ” bothers me ,and always has.
    It is fairly clear that the writer has a pre-formed bias to begin with ,namely that ,in their opinion , many advertised claims for various and sundry health supplements are highly over-rated.
    True or not though , that is not the correct approach for a scientist ,nor anyone who is more than casually interested in the real facts. Scientists need to always remain objective to a fault because it is the basis of good THOROUGH investigation.
    Whether or not Ateronon (or any other health supplement)works as advertised ,or has other as yet undiscovered attributes ,the possibility that it/they could (or ,as in the Ateronon example ,very likely could ,according to the published studies ) have positive usable properties needs to be closely (and objectively) investigated in depth. Until then the jury is still out . But since there are no published studies (or anecdotal reports as well) of adverse effects ,long or short term , connected to moderate lycopene usage , there is really no reason not to give it a try ,other than the out of pocket cost. Ateronon or a similar supplement ( possibly even tomato paste ?) could be an effective way to positively control some aspects of cardiovascular health in millions of at risk persons ,safely and effectively. With that in mind I believe Ateronon honestly warrants much more serious scientific due/attention than this writer gives it.

    By john on Thursday 8 October, 2009 at 12:38 pm

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