A pill that contains a chemical found in tomato skin could help reduce the risk of arthritis, diabetes, heart disease and even cancer, scientists claim.

The daily pill called Ateronon is made up of a chemical called lycopene, which gives tomatoes its red color. Lycopene, a chemical thought to be one of the main health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, has previously been shown to help unclog arteries by breaking down fatty deposits.

Further research has shown that lycopene may also help patients with pre-existing heart conditions by boosting their blood flow and softening their arteries, which tend to harden with age. Researchers found that "tomato pill" had increased the flexibility of patients' arteries by an astonishing 50 percent.

Cambridge researchers said that the latest findings suggest that the "tomato pill" could limit the damage caused by heart disease, the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. However, they noted that more studies are needed to determine whether the positive effects of the pill translate into fewer strokes and heart attacks among patients with heart conditions.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease accounts for about 600,00 deaths, or a quarter of all deaths, in the United States each year.

Researchers believe that the pill can also help patients with arthritis, diabetes and even slow the progression of cancer.

Each Ateronon daily pill is equal to about eating 6 pounds of tomatoes a day. Furthermore, researchers say that the pill uses an artificially modified lycopene compound that is more easily absorbed by the blood than the natural version in tomatoes.

Researchers had presented their preliminary results from the latest two-month trial, in which the daily tomato pill was given to 36 patients with heart disease and 36 health volunteers with an average age of 67, at a meeting of the American Heart Association.

The results indicated that the pill appeared to have improved the function of the endothelium, the layer of cells lining blood vessels, and boosted their sensitivity to nitric oxide, the gas that triggers the arteries to dilate when exercising.

"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," an Wilkinson, director of Cambridge University's clinical trials unit, said in a university news release.

Researchers developing the tomato pill hope that it could be one day used as an alternative to statins for heart disease patients who cannot take the cholesterol-lowering drugs, and they believe that the pill may also help those with other inflammatory conditions.

David Fitzmaurice, professor of primary care clinical sciences at Birmingham University said that if the tomato pill really does have an effect on endothelial function, then the pill "could have a beneficial effect on virtually every inflammatory disease process, including things like arthritis or diabetes," according to The Telegraph.

"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," Fitzmaurice added.