Attack of the Cancer Fighting Tomatoes
That’s right, the colorful little fruit (yes, it’s a fruit) has been shown to pack a powerful punch against several forms of cancer. A variety of studies indicate that a diet rich in tomato based products (tomato paste, sauce, juice, soup and ketchup) can significantly reduce the risk of prostate, lung and colon cancer. Not bad for a fruit that was considered by many to be poisonous and inedible until the 19th century.
What is the Active Ingredient?
The active ingredient that makes tomatoes such a formidable opponent against cancer cells is the carotenoid called Lycopene. Lycopene is the natural red pigment found in tomatoes and tomato based products. The redder the tomato, the more lycopene is present.
How does Lycopene Fight Cancer?
In the body, lycopene is deposited in the liver, lungs, prostate gland, colon and skin. Its concentration in body tissues tends to be higher than all other carotenoids. Some organs, such as the testes and adrenal glands, store higher levels of lycopene than do other organs or tissues. Lycopene acts as a super antioxidant by picking up free radicals in the body. Free radicals are atoms or groups of atoms with an odd number of electrons and can be formed when oxygen interacts with certain molecules. Once formed these highly reactive radicals can start a chain reaction. Their primary danger comes from the damage they can do when they react with important cellular components such as DNA, or the cell membrane. Cells may function poorly or die if this occurs.
Is there any Research on the Cancer fighting power of Lycopene?
Although more large-scale studies are needed before any definitive conclusions can be made, current research does suggest that lycopene from various tomato products is indeed associated with the lowered risk of several types of cancers. Several published reports are listed below.
Gann et al. 1999 – Cancer Research
The study examined initial plasma caroteniods (including lycopene) of 1872 men in 1982, and then followed them for 13 years. These men were randomly assigned to a placebo group or a group to receive beta-carotene and aspirin supplementation. Of the men studied, 578 developed prostate cancer versus 1294 control subjects. Lycopene was the only antioxidant with a significantly lower average blood level in those men with cancer as compared to those without cancer. In those men not receiving the aspirin and beta carotene, plasma lycopene levels were very strongly related to a lower risk of developing prostate cancer. This study concluded that increased consumption of tomato products and other lycopene-containing foods may reduce the onset of prostate cancer.
Giovannucci 1999 – Journal of the National Cancer Institute
This journal is a review of research studies available regarding cancer risk (not just prostate cancer) and intake of tomato based foods as well as blood lycopene levels. After identifying 72 studies that fit these criteria, it was found that an inverse relationship between tomato intake or blood lycopene levels and cancer risk was reported in 57 of them. Of these 57, it was found that 35 of these inverse relationships were statistically significant. It was also found that cancer protection from lycopene was strongest for prostate, colon and stomach cancers, but also appeared to have some benefit in the treatment of other cancers.
Rao et al. 1999 – Nutrition and Cancer
This study examined plasma and prostate lycopene levels in cancer patients and a control group free of cancer. Though only 12 patients were in each group, significantly lower serum and prostate lycopene levels were found in those with cancer. Levels of other carotenoid substances did not vary between the groups.
In addition to fighting cancer, the lycopene found in tomatoes has been associated with better mental activity in old age and a reduced risk of heart disease. A University of Maryland study found that tomatoes might protect the eyes by hampering macular degeneration, a cause of vision loss in older adults.
How do I get Lycopene into my body?
The best source of lycopene intake is through eating tomato-based products. This is more effective than supplementation. You will get the most lycopene through concentrates and processed products such as tomato paste, sauce, soup and canned tomatoes. Heating helps to release lycopene and adding a little light olive oil will increase absorption. Start packing your diet with more tomato based recipes and begin enjoying the cancer fighting power of the mighty tomato.