(Bloomberg) — Tomatoes genetically engineered to help unclog arteries and yogurt bacteria designed to lower cholesterol are among a new wave of alternative remedies showing promise in the fight against heart disease.

Scientists presented two studies Monday at the American Heart Association meeting in Los Angeles that suggest food may be altered in such a way that it offers benefits similar to traditional pharmaceuticals.

In one study, researchers fed mice pieces of tomatoes altered to produce a peptide that mimics effects of artery-clearing HDL cholesterol. In a second, people were given a twice-daily capsule of Micropharma Ltd.’s probiotic, made from yogurt bacteria. In both cases, the results showed significant heart-health benefits, and researchers said they could add to cholesterol-reducing drugs like statins in the fight against heart disease.

“As good as statins are, they haven’t completely reduced the number of people still dying of heart attack and stroke and those numbers are still quite significant,” says Alan Fogelman, the lead author on the tomato study and a cardiology researcher at the University of California Los Angeles

In the tomato study, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, the mice displayed reduced plaque and higher HDL. The experimental drug is the first of its kind made in a plant that can be eaten, the researchers say. Separately, the probiotic trial, done in 127 people, found the yogurt bacteria helped cut total cholesterol by 9.1%.

More than half a million Americans die from heart disease annually despite advances in drugs called statins and procedures to prevent heart attacks and strokes. When the body has too much LDL, or bad cholesterol, it can build up in the arteries, blocking blood flow. HDL or good cholesterol can help ferry plaque out of the arteries.

Drugs to lower LDL, such as Lipitor, made by New York-based Pfizer Inc., can cause side effects in 10% to 20% of patients. Attempts by Pfizer Inc. and Roche AG to come up with new drugs to raise HDL have failed.

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