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Biotech Tomato Can Help Lower Blood Pressure

by Ellon Labana
Published: Last Updated on


Text and Photo by Henrylito D. Tacio

Here’s good news for Filipinos who are hypertensive.  A team of scientists from Universidad Autonoma de Sinaloa (UAS) in Mexico has successfully developed a genetically engineered tomato (GE) that can help treat hypertension.

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, affects 30% of the world population, according to the Geneva-based World Health Organization.  Because of this, the researchers looked at scientific literature to search for proteins that help reduce hypertension and devised a way to incorporate the protein in tomato, a popular fruit vegetable around the globe.

Through genetic engineering, the team extracted the desired protein from amaranth (more popularly known in the Philippines as “kulitis”), expressed it into tomato, and fed the GE tomatoes to hypertensive rats in the laboratory.

What followed next was a scientific breakthrough: Results showed that the amarantin from GE tomatoes “had therapeutic effects similar with captopril,” a common drug prescribed for hypertensive patients.

But the drawback is that the GE tomatoes will not be available sooner.  “The next stage of the project will include testing of the GE tomato on humans,” the report stated.

The scientific community, particularly those in the medical field, is agog about this latest development.  After all, hypertension is a common health problem throughout the world.

Photo by Henrylito D. Tacio

In the Philippines, some 10 million people are suffering from hypertension.  “Hypertension per se does not kill, but the complications are the ones that disable and kill a hypertensive,” says Dr. Rafael Castillo, a cardiologist at Manila Doctors’ Hospital.

According to the Food and Nutrition Research Institute, a line agency of the Department of Science and Technology, the prevalence of hypertension in the country is 21.0%.  Two in every 10 Filipino adults, 20 years and over, are hypertensive.

Many things can cause blood pressure to rise. When you are asleep, your blood pressure is low because your body needs less oxygen-rich blood when it is at rest. On the other hand, when you are exercising, your body’s demands are greater, and so your blood pressure increases.

“It is perfectly normal for your blood pressure to rise and fall in response to your body’s needs throughout the day,” says Dr. Willie T. Ong, a cardiologist and one of the authors of “Altapresyon at Tamang Pangangalaga sa Inyong Puso.”

Hypertension results from either an increase in the amount of blood that is pumped by the heart or an increased resistance to blood as it flows through the arteries. In other words, the flow of blood travels through narrowed arteries, requiring your heart to pump harder just to keep the blood flowing.

Normally, people have certain standards of blood pressure (BP), with a reading of 140/90 considered the median or average.  The upper number, called the systolic, refers to the pumping capability of the heart, while the lower number, termed the diastolic, refers to the pressure exerted by the blood vessels all over the body.

A person is said to be hypertensive if he or she has persistent elevations of BP: a systolic blood pressure greater than 140 mm Hg (millimeters mercury) or a diastolic blood pressure of more than 90 mm Hg.

An individual has a mild hypertension if the systolic BP is between 140 to 159 mm Hg or the diastolic BP is between 90 to 99 mm Hg.  When the systolic BP is higher than 160 mm Hg or a diastolic BP is greater than 100 mm Hg, a person is said to have a moderate to severe hypertension.

If left uncontrolled, hypertension causes damage to various organs in the body resulting in other diseases.  Among the dangerous complications of uncontrolled hypertension are stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney failure, and blindness or impaired vision.

In the Philippines, the majority of the people with hypertension have no symptoms and many don’t even realize they have high blood pressure. In fact, studies have shown that only 14% of hypertensive Filipinos are aware of their condition.  Of those who know they’re hypertensive, only half are taking medications; and of those who are taking medications, less than half have their BPs controlled to optimal levels.

Hypertension can be controlled – but only if you find it first.  As Dr. Enrique Ona, former health secretary, puts it: “Detecting high blood pressure is the first step in preventing and controlling it; when people know their blood pressure level, they can take steps to control it.”

Dr. Amado I. Nazal, medical director of Pharex Health Corp., urged hypertensive patients to comply with the medication schedule even when symptoms are not surfacing.  He also advised to maintain a healthy diet aside from taking the prescribed medication.

“Without complying with your therapy, your health will eventually deteriorate, leading to a lower quality of life – or even death,” Dr. Nazal told Vital Signs, a monthly publication for health professionals.  “Embarking on a lifestyle journey is not one-time travel – it is a life’s worth of adventure you can give to yourself, and someday, you’ll thank yourself if you did.”

And eating tomatoes may also help. Tomato is considered one of the richest of all foods in vitamins.   It is very rich in all three important vitamins like A, B and C while most vegetables are deficient in one or more.  It is also rich in lycopene, now recognized as a powerful substance in the fight against cardiovascular disease.  A health expert wrote: “The lycopene-rich tomato, with its synergistic nutrients, is a powerful protector of heart disease.”

Aside from lowering hypertension, tomatoes can dramatically reduce the risk of having a stroke.  That’s according to the Finnish study published in the “Neurology” journal.  The recent study – based on data from more than 1,000 middle-aged men, followed for an average of 12 years – has provided more support for diets rich in fruits and vegetables.  In tomatoes, the key factor appears to be the powerful antioxidant lycopene.

“This study adds to the evidence that a diet high in fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of stroke,” pointed out study author Jouni Karppi, of the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio.

That’s not the only reason why tomatoes should be eaten regularly.  “A large body of evidence already links the consumption of tomatoes and tomato products with lower rates of cancer, especially prostate, but a recent review published in the ‘American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine’ highlights potential new selling points for this luscious red fruit: better skin, stronger bones and healthier brain,” wrote nutritionist Sue Radd, an award-winning author of “The Breakfast Book.” 

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