Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among men of all races/ethnicities in the United States, but due to certain genetic, cultural and socioeconomic factors, Hispanic men are more likely to die from prostate cancer compared to non-Hispanic white males.
Experts have long associated higher prostate cancer risk with a poor diet, and now it appears there may be a food Hispanics and other men should look to add to their meals: tomatoes.
According to research published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, eating ten or more servings of tomatoes a week can significantly lower the risk of developing prostate cancer. This is good news for Hispanic men who, according to the American Cancer Society, account for 15,000 new cases of this disease annually.
“Our findings suggest that tomatoes may be important in prostate cancer prevention,” stated lead author Vanessa Er, as reported by MNT. “However, further studies need to be conducted to confirm our findings, especially through human trials. Men should still eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, maintain a healthy weight and stay active.”
Er and her team found the carotenoid that gives tomatoes their red color, lycopene, can fight off toxins that damage prostate cells and DNA. Lycopene has been linked in previous studies to improved blood vessel function in cardiovascular disease patients and positive treatment for high blood pressure. Due to the presence of lycopene, men who ate more than ten servings of tomatoes and tomato products reduced their prostate cancer risk by 18 percent.
Researchers cautioned, however, that the desire to add lycopene to a diet was not a excuse to load up on foods like pizza or processed tomato sauce as these items also contain high levels of salt, fat and sugar.
Are there any reason to be concerned about lycopene?
While this most recent study suggests men with a high risk for prostate cancer or prostate cancer death could benefit from including lycopene in their diets, there are some possible side effects.
“The potential side effects of lycopene supplements are not fully known. Patients in one study who took a lycopene-rich tomato supplement of 15 milligrams twice a day had some intestinal side effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, indigestion, gas, and bloating. When consumed over a long period of time, very large amounts of tomato products can give the skin an orange color,” states the American Cancer Society. “Supplements containing antioxidants such as lycopene may interfere with radiation therapy and chemotherapy if taken during cancer treatment.”
There are currently no standard recommendations for daily lycopene intake; in 2000, the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine ruled there was not enough clinical evidence to support the need for dietary limitations on antioxidants and carotenoids like lycopene.
Anyone considering adding lycopene or tomatoes to their diet for a specific medical reason should consult first with their doctor.