Ah, the commonly misunderstood fruit: the tomato. While we tend to treat tomatoes like vegetables (stewing them, making sauce, tossing into salads), they are actually a fruit.
Loaded with vitamin C, these little bundles of flavor are also packing a cancer-fighting weapon lycopene.
Lycopene is one of the most concentrated carotenoids found in the blood, organs, and tissues of the body. The potent antioxidant capabilities of carotenoids neutralizes free radicals, which have long been believed to be risk factors for many age-related degenerative conditions, including heart disease and cancer.
Like nutritional Pac-Men, antioxidants gobble up as many free radicals as they can and deactivate them, thereby preventing them from doing further damage.
One of the most important health benefits of lycopene is its ability to reduce the risk of cancer, particularly cancers of the reproductive tract. In one particularly fascinating study from the International Journal of Cancer, investigators found that the 75 percent of women who ate the least amount of tomatoes were three to five times more at risk for pre-cancerous lesions of the cervix than those who ate a lycopene-rich diet.
Another study just published in October 2001 had similar results for ovarian cancer. Researchers found that high carotene intake, especially a diet high in lycopene, significantly reduced the risk of ovarian cancer in premenopausal women. Investigators suggested that consumption of fruits, vegetables and food items high in carotene and lycopene, particularly raw carrots and tomato sauce, may reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.
While there have not been human studies on lycopene and breast cancer or uterine cancer prevention, several very promising laboratory and animal studies have been done. These results, though preliminary, suggest that lycopene may help to reduce the risk of breast cancer and uterine cancer.
In one case, mice who had been injected with tumor-promoting agents were given a mixture of lycopene and olive oil three times a week for seven months. Researchers found that the lycopene reduced the number of tumors by 45 percent.
A second study set out to determine the effect lycopene had on the number and size of mammary tumors in rats. Investigators found that the rats injected with lycopene not only developed fewer cancerous tumors than those without lycopene, but the size of the tumors was smaller.
In a third study, human mammary cells were incubated with lycopene for 24 hours. Researchers found that the lycopene could inhibit human cancer cell reproduction. They concluded that lycopene can be a helpful agent for slowing the growth of breast and endometrial cancer cells.
Or, to put it bluntly, get your tomatoes! To reduce your risk of ovarian, cervical, and possibly breast and uterine cancer, aim for 10 servings of tomatoes or tomato products each week. Just be sure to mix the tomatoes in an oil base, such as olive oil, to enhance lycopene absorption.
This can include tomato sauce, tomatoes saut?ed with zucchini or another vegetable, or even raw tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with basil.
And for more great nutrition tips, visit Dr. Larks Web site.