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Tomatoes for prostate cancer



a bowl of fresh tomato sauce

Not all cancers are created equal. The word "cancer" is an umbrella term that includes all of the cancers you've heard about, from breast to pancreas to prostate cancers, but the truth is that every cancer type is very different from the others (this is why research into specific cancers is so important). To make matters worse, the individual cancers can vary within each type. You may have heard about estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer, for example.

Prostate cancer also has distinct subtypes. About half of all prostate cancers are marked by a specific gene fusion known as trans-membrane protease, serine 2 (TMPRSS2):v-ets avian erythroblastosis virus E26 oncogene homolog (ERG) fusion, or TMPRSS2:ERG.

Several years ago I shared with you a study that looked at the link between higher fruit and vegetable consumption and the risk of developing Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia. The active ingredient, so to speak, of those fruits and vegetables is their antioxidant content, which include beta-carotene, lutein, Vitamin C, and lycopenes. Tomatoes are very high in lycopenes (it's the major red pigment in fruits and vegetables), and cooking tomatoes helps release the antioxidant - one case where cooking the food makes it more healthy.

Some research has shown that higher lycopene intake is related to a lower risk of prostate cancer. An international team of researchers looked at data drawn from the Health Professionals Followup Study (a long term, large-scale prospective study of over 50,000 male health professionals) to see if lycopene intake, specifically from tomato sauce, could be correlated with one's risk of developing TMPRSS2:ERG-positive prostate cancer (Am J Clin Nutr 2016;103:851-60).

The authors made use of the food frequency questionnaires of the 45,000 men who had no cancer diagnosis at the start of the study and grouped those men into five increasing levels of both lycopene intake (from all sources of lycopenes) and five increasing levels of cooked tomato sauce. They then looked specifically at the diets of those men who were diagnosed with prostate cancer and received radical prostatectomy as a treatment, which allowed assessment of their TMPRSS2:ERG status.

After taking into account a truly impressive range of variables, from race to medical history to whether they took Vitamin E supplements, the authors found that both the highest quintile of lycopene intake and the highest level of tomato sauce intake were associated with a lower risk of prostate cancers of all types, but while higher lycopene intake reduced the mens' risk by about 5%, the higher intake of tomato sauce reduced their risk by 10%. Among those cases that were analyzed for ERG status, once again tomato sauce proved more protective than lycopene intake.

What this means for you

We've seen that it's better to get your antioxidants from food rather than in pill form, and this research certainly supports that. To prevent prostate cancer, get your lycopenes from cooked tomatoes - here are a few recipes to get you started.

Tomato Sauce (from canned tomatoes)
Tomato Sauce (from fresh tomatoes)
Low Acid Tomato Sauce (GERD-friendly)
Quick and Easy Tomato Sauce and Pasta
Chilled Roasted Tomato Soup
Roasted Tomato Soup with Garlic and Corn
Tomato Basil Soup

First posted: April 6, 2016