Men interested in lowering their risk of prostate and other cancers should consider eating at least five servings of tomato-based products a week, according to scientific research being presented at the fourth annual World Congress on the Processing Tomato on Saturday, June 10 in Sacramento. A number of studies have already cited lycopene, a naturally occurring substance in tomatoes, as one of the substances that may be associated with the reduced risk of prostate and other cancers.

Each year in the U.S., an estimated 180,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer.(1) Nearly 37,000 are expected to die of the disease this year.(1)

“We believe that the research data are compelling and that it is timely to urge consumers to increase their overall intake of fruits and vegetables and to emphasize tomato products since tomatoes provide lycopene, believed to have antioxidant properties,” says conference speaker David Heber, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of California at Los Angeles. “As little as six ounces of tomato-based vegetable juice or a bowl of tomato soup have been shown to help elevate blood lycopene levels.”

In a recent review of 72 studies published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (February 17, 1999), Dr. Edward Giovannucci of Harvard Medical School concluded that intake of tomatoes, and tomato-based products, has been consistently related to elevated blood lycopene levels and a lower risk of a variety of cancers.

“The health benefits of tomato products came to light five years ago when a Harvard study showed that risk of prostate cancer was a third lower in men who consumed more tomato products like pasta sauce,” says Steven Schwartz, Ph.D., Professor of Food Science and Nutrition at The Ohio State University. “Since then, new research has supported a link with tomato products and decreased risk of other cancers, including pancreatic cancer, lung cancer and colorectal cancer.”

Processing Increases Benefits

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Research has shown that the cooking and processing of tomato products appear to make lycopene even more readily available to the body, indicating that there may be an added health benefit to eating processed tomato products like tomato soup and tomato sauce.

Researchers are currently evaluating popular consumer products to increase their understanding of the association between consumption of processed tomato products, lycopene and reduced risk of prostate cancer. In a study conducted by Heber, “Plasma Lycopene and Carotenoid Profiles in Prostate Cancer Patients Supplemented with Mixed Vegetable Juice,” thirty-eight patients (ages 52-79) with prostate cancer, not undergoing active treatment, were studied over a three-month period. A highly significant increase of carotenoids and lycopene was observed in prostate cancer patients given dietary instruction to follow a low-fat high-fiber diet supplemented with six ounces of “V8” vegetable juice daily, suggesting that a mixed vegetable juice supplement may increase bioavailable lycopene and carotenoids in prostate cancer patients.

In a separate study by Schwartz and colleagues, 36 healthy adults (ages 18-65) consumed standard daily servings of three familiar processed tomato products: “Prego” pasta sauce, “Campbell’s” tomato soup or “V8” vegetable juice. The study showed that lycopene is readily absorbed from these products, although bioavailability differs for each, and that a single daily serving of as little as six ounces of tomato juice or a bowl of tomato soup can significantly increase blood lycopene levels.

“We’re continuing to learn more and more about the connection between food and disease prevention,” says Schwartz. “According to health professionals, eating at least five servings a day of fruits and vegetables is prudent and now it makes good sense to include tomato products as one of the five choices each day, not only to help lower the risk of cancer but to help meet daily fruit and vegetable recommendations and promote overall health.”

The World Congress on the Processing Tomato is an annual international conference of renowned scientists and researchers on current practices and future developments in processing tomato production and utilization. This is the first year that the conference has focused on the health benefits of tomato products.

1) American Foundation for Urologic Disease, Inc.

Some research sponsored by Campbell Soup Company

Barbara King/Stacey Gluck
Aronow & Pollock Communications