Medical researchers have this week claimed to have finally harnessed the health secret of the Mediterranean diet - in a SINGLE PILL.
The natural remedy, called Ateronon, is made from tomatoes and had previously been hailed for unclogging arteries.
Now experts believe it also has the potential to dramatically cut the risks of STROKES, play a major role in HEART ATTACK PREVENTION - and even fight CANCER.
The claims follow new medical research from Cambridge University that has shown the "wonder pill," which contains the chemical lycopene - usually found in the skin of ripe tomatoes, also boosts blood vessel efficiency, improves blood flow and softens arteries that have become hardened with age.
The latest results have left researchers hopeful that Ateronon can actually halt the damage caused by heart disease - Britain's biggest killer.
It is believed to be the first time scientists have pin-pointed an explanation for why southern Europeans are living up to ten years longer than those in north.
Medical trials indicate the breakthrough could change many millions more lives across the world than previously estimated, because of its potential to help fight other illnesses.
Preliminary results of the Ateronon trial proved so "exciting" they were presented at this winter’s American Heart Association meeting, in Los Angeles.
The natural tomato pill incorporates a newly developed version of a modified lycopene compound, which if taken every day, is easily absorbed into the blood to levels far above those naturally achieved by a Mediterranean diet.
Ian Wilkinson, director of Cambridge University’s clinical trials unit, said: "We think these results are good news and potentially very significant, but we need more trials to see if they translate into fewer heart attacks and strokes."
Peter Kirkpatrick, a leading Cambridge neurosurgeon with an interest in strokes and circulatory disease and medical advisor to CamNutra, which has developed Ateronon, hailed the results of the medical research as promising.
"It is too early to come to any firm conclusions, but the results from this trial are far better than anything we could have hoped for. This was a small group, and we now need to confirm the findings in a much larger study population," he said.
A two-month study supported by CamNutra compared the effect of the pill on 36 patients with pre-existing heart disease that were already taking cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, against 36 healthy volunteers.
Both groups had an average age of 67 and comparable blood pressure readings, though those with heart disease already had demonstrable blood vessel damage.
Ateronon was shown to dramatically improve the function of the endothelium, the layer of cells lining the blood vessels, in the group of patients suffering from heart disease.
Taking Ateronon daily increases blood lycopene to optimum levels, which boost the endothelium’s sensitivity to nitric oxide, the gas which triggers the dilation of the blood vessels in response to exercise and demand for increased blood flow in healthy people.
Overall, Ateronon, described as a modified lycopene ‘nutraceutical,’ was shown to improve the flexibility of blood vessels by up to 50%.
Scientists believe if the same results can be demonstrated in more patients, it could offer an effective alternative to statins for heart disease sufferers who cannot take the existing remedy.
Further studies of Ateronon are already underway at Harvard University in Boston, and more research is to be carried out in Britain this year.
Plans are being drawn up for long-term trials involving hundreds of people to study a wider-ranging comparison of the effects of Ateronon on the endothelial function of healthy people and those with pre-existing heart disease.
David Fitzmaurice, professor of primary care clinical sciences at Birmingham University, has been asked to recruit patients for the trial through the university’s primary care research network.
He said: "If this modified lycopene really does have an effect on endothelial function, then it could have a beneficial effect on virtually every inflammatory disease process, including things like arthritis or diabetes.
"It is all highly speculative at this stage, but this [modified lycopene] might even slow down the development of cancer, which is also linked to inflammation."
The American Heart Association conference, held in November last year, is the world’s largest gathering of specialists and was attended by 17,000 cardiologists and circulatory disease experts.
Joseph Cheriyan, a leading expert in cardiovascular medicine at Cambridge, who led the study, said the findings were "very exciting indeed," but requested not to comment further ahead of publication of the full study in a scientific journal.