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Archive for May 25th, 2007

Seeing Red over Lycopene Research

Posted by David Bradley on May 25th, 2007

Lycopene structureIt is the medical about turn of the century! Lycopene, the main red stuff found in tomatoes does not, according to the latest research, help reduce a man’s risk of developing prostate cancer. I am not sure whether I am relieved or not. On the one hand, it means all those years of guzzling vile tomato juice (even the conversion into a Bloody Mary with Worcestershire sauce and vodka really doesn’t do it for me) have perhaps all been in vain. On the other, it means I don’t have to guzzle the vile stuff any more and can now opt for a nice-tasting smoothie packed with frozen blueberries and delicious fruits rather than bitter-sweet toms.

Study data were derived from over 28,000 men enrolled in the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Trial, an ongoing, randomized National Cancer Institute trial to evaluate cancer screening methods and to investigate early markers of cancer. Results from that study have been analyzed and appear in the May issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, which conclude that lycopene, the antioxidant predominately found in tomatoes, does not effectively prevent prostate cancer.

More worryingly, Ulrike Peters and colleagues at the National Cancer Institute and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found that there is an association between beta-carotene, an antioxidant related to lycopene, and an increased risk for aggressive prostate cancer. So, all those years of excessive tomato juice drinking may actually have the opposite effect to that desired.

That said, as with all of these kinds of study, they focus on minor factors in the wider picture. Risk is all about probability and statistics, there is no real way of knowing whether years of tomato juice drinking will have benefited any individual person or had a detrimental effect. If imbibing lycopene-rich foods and drink are associated with a more health conscious approach to life and a tendency to eat fresh fruit and vegetables as opposed to processed fat and sugar, then carry on with the tomato juice regardless.

Indeed, Peters says that, “While it would be counter-productive to advise people against eating carrots and leafy vegetables, I would say to be cautious about taking beta carotene supplements, particularly at high doses, and consult a physician.”

If you really cannot stomach tomato juice, even with the vodka and Worcestershire or tabasco sauce, then opt for the blueberry smooth with skim milk instead.

InChI=1/C40H56/c1-33(2)19-13-23-37(7)27-17-31-39(9)29-15-25-35(5)21-11-12-22-36(6)26-16-30-40(10)32-18-28-38(8)24-14-20-34(3)4/h11-12,15-22,25-32H,13-14,23-24H2,1-10H3/b12-11+,25-15+,26-16+,31-17+,32- 18+,35-21+,36-22+,37-27+,38-28+,39-29+,40-30+