(Journal of the National Cancer Institute, March 6, 2002 issue) — Frequent consumption of tomato products may be associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer, concludes a study in the March 6 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Previous research has suggested that frequent consumption of tomato products or lycopene, an antioxidant in tomato sauce, may be associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer. To confirm these findings, Edward Giovannucci, M.D., Sc.D., and colleagues from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health analyzed tomato-product-consumption patterns and prostate cancer cases among roughly 47,400 men enrolled in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study.
The researchers found that the consumption of tomato sauce was associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer among men of Southern European descent (who typically have tomato-rich diets), and among men of Caucasian ancestry. The authors conclude that frequent consumption of tomato products is associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer. They note, however, that it remains to be seen whether lycopene is the key compound in reducing prostate cancer risk.
How does this article relate to me?
Eating more fruits and vegetables to decrease cancer risk and heart disease gets more support. Tomatoes are back in the news. Prior research has suggested that eating tomato-based products lowers the chance of getting prostate, stomach, and lung cancers. So far, the evidence is tied most closely to decreasing prostate cancer.
This article refers to a study that looked at the eating habits of more than 47,000 men. The men who ate tomato sauce or other preparations of cooked tomatoes two or more times per week had a 20 percent less chance of developing prostate cancer.
Although unproven, lycopene may be the key ingredient in tomatoes that leads to less cancer risk. Lycopene is a carotenoid that gives tomatoes, watermelon, and pink grapefruit their red color. Lycopene is an antioxidant.
What changes do I need to make?
Most fruits and vegetables can be eaten uncooked to get full nutritional value. Tomatoes are probably an exception. More lycopene is released from a cooked tomato. This could be the reason why the decreased cancer risk was seen with tomato sauce and other tomato-based products, rather than raw tomatoes. In addition, lycopene is best absorbed through the intestine when eaten with fat.
So cooking tomatoes in olive oil theoretically makes sense. You break down the cell walls of the tomato, the lycopene is released, you absorb more, and you get the benefits of eating a healthy monounsaturated fat.
What can I expect in the future?
It’s very exciting to think that we are starting to learn what foods may help prevent specific diseases. General recommendations for a healthy diet combined with regular exercise probably won’t change much over the next few years. But finding a specific food that is not just associated with decreased prostate cancer risk, but truly prevents it, would be a fantastic discovery.