Do tomatoes reduce prostate cancer risk?
With prostate cancer awareness growing around the world, a common discussion theme is that of prostate cancer prevention. In particular, perhaps the most frequently asked question is “Do tomatoes prevent prostate cancer?”.
Lycopene, a basic nutrient in tomatoes
Indeed, therefore, the popularity of the topic of tomatoes and their preventative qualities is soaring. Part of the reason is the increasing number of references to a specific nutrient found in tomatoes, lycopene, and its association with a reduced risk of prostate cancer.
But why is that? An endocrinologist who has studied the topic of nutrition and cancer at length provides some further details.
Evidence of protection from prostate cancer with tomato products
Evidence from various studies suggests that the wide variation in international rates of prostate cancer may be attributed to a ‘Westernized’ diet and lifestyle. In particular, a beneficial association is indicated between the consumption of plant foods and the risk of developing prostate cancer. This association is largely explained by high consumption of tomato and tomato-related products.
Prostate cancer risk “reduced by 20-30% from tomato intake”
To put it more concretely, tomato intake is associated with overall prostate cancer risk reduction of about 20-30%. It has been claimed that the protective effect exists due to lycopene, the major carotenoid in tomato. It is important to note, however, that epidemiological evidence remain controversial.
Lycopene is more available in products of tomato, compared to raw tomato. However, this does not mean that all products based on tomatoes should be treated equally, due to the effect of food processing and preparation. For instance, consumption of several foods containing processed tomato (such as pizza and tomato sauce) should be kept in moderation; this is because of their high salt, sugar and fat content.
Balance is the key
Certainly, there is no single and proven ‘formula’ which prevents prostate cancer, especially with the longevity of men increasing in the developed and developing world. Oncologists, nutritionists, and endocrinologists never stop pointing out that a balanced diet is the best approach to reduce risk. Of course, this does not apply only in cancer, but is the suggested approach for many other diseases as well.
Keep this in mind every time you prepare or order food, and you can rest assured that you are doing the best for your long-term wellbeing.
Er V., Lane A., Martin M., Adherence to dietary and lifestyle recommendations and prostate cancer risk in the Prostate Testing for Cancer and Treatment (ProtecT) trial, Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev, 2014, p: 1-28
About the author: Polyxeni Koutkia Mylonaki
Dr. Koutkia completed her residency specialty training at Brown University in Rhode Island and her fellowship training at Boston University and Harvard Medical School's Massachusetts General Hospital.
She then worked at the Neuroendocrine Unit of the Massachusetts General Hospital and as a Physician in the Program in Nutritional Metabolism. She has held a position as an Instructor at Harvard Medical School and is currently the Chief of Endocrinology & Nutrition at Hygeia General Hospital in Athens, Greece.
She is a certified American Physician Nutrition Specialist, and is also certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine and the American Board of Endocrinology, Nutrition and Metabolism.
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