A Tomato a Day Keeps the Doctor Away
~ October 1998 No.54 ~
One of the joys of summer is going out into the backyard garden and picking a ripe red tomato off the vine and eating it while it is still warm from the sun. The tomato, which once was considered poisonous, is in fact the source of lycopene a powerful antioxidant that has shown to have great promise in the fight against cancer and other diseases.
Lycopene is a acyclic tetraterpene to the chemists of the world. To the rest of us it is just what gives the tomato, pink grapefruit, watermelon and guava their red colour. But more importantly, lycopene is a very powerful antioxidant because of its complex chemical structure. It is its antioxidant properties that have been used to explain the protective effect of lycopene against prostrate cancer. It is believed that many cancers are caused by damage to DNA in cells that over time can lead to abnormal cell metabolism and eventually cancer. Antioxidants such as lycopene protect DNA from being damaged and thereby prevent the onset of cancer.
It appears that lycopene is very readily absorbed into the body and plasma levels of lycopene have been shown to increase when either tomato products or supplements containing lycopene are consumed. Cooking tends to increase the availability to the body of lycopene in tomato products. Many other helpful nutrients are often destroyed or degraded upon cooking.
Harvard School of Public Health scientists in the United States have reported that the risk of prostate cancer is lowered by over 45% in men who ate tomato foods at least ten times a week. In another study from the same institute Dr. Edward Giovannucci and colleagues found that consuming tomatoes, tomato sauce or pizza more than twice a week reduced risk of prostate cancer 21 to 34 percent compared to those who consumed no sources of lycopene. The effect depended on the food source of lycopene.
Whether you choose to get your lycopene from a fresh tomato or some other way is not important. Adding this powerful anitoxidant to your diet may a good idea in the long run.