By Dr. Raphael NyarkoteyObu: Ph.D.
Prostate cancer is a huge challenge in the black community. Approximately 10 percent of men can be diagnosed with cancer of the prostate during their lifetime. So when it comes to finding ways to avoid developing the disease, naturally there is a great deal of interest. Thus far, conventional medicine hasn’t been very successful in this regard, so some men are turning to a more natural approach, which has led some experts and the general public to ask, can lycopene prevent prostate cancer?
According to research, Men with the highest blood levels of the carotenoid antioxidant lycopene were 55 percent less likely to have a stroke than those with the lowest. Tomatoes are one of the most concentrated sources of lycopene, but cooking them actually increases the lycopene content that can be absorbed by your body, and also increases the total antioxidant activity.
Eating a wide variety of lycopene-rich foods makes sense, as in addition to stroke prevention, this powerful antioxidant has been shown to have beneficial effects for heart disease, cancer, skin health and even sperm count
What is lycopene?
Lycopene is a potent antioxidant, a member of the carotenoid family, and a pigment that gives some fruits and vegetables their red color. Tomatoes and processed tomato foods (e.g., tomato soup, sauce, juice, puree, ketchup) are perhaps the most recognized food sources of lycopene and also comprise about 80 percent of the lycopene intake in the average American diet. However, other food sources include red grapefruit, guava, red bell peppers, and watermelon.
Numerous studies have indicated that lycopene can help prevent or reduce the risk of certain cancers, including prostate, stomach, lung pancreas, esophagus, colon, breast, and cervix. Here we are interested in the relationship between lycopene and prostate cancer, and thus far the evidence has been mixed. Here are some of the more recent results of research regarding this topic.
Lycopene and prostate cancer: The studies
The idea that lycopene might help prevent or manage prostate cancer came up in 1995 when the Health Professionals Follow-Up study, which was the first to note that lycopene in tomatoes may fight cancer. Specifically, in this study lycopene seemed to lower prostate cancer risk.
In a subsequent animal study, the authors found that mice with human prostate cancer cells who received both lycopene and chemotherapy had smaller tumors and lived longer than their peers who received chemotherapy alone. In 2013, investigators discovered that men who consumed a lot of raw or cooked tomatoes had a slightly lower risk of prostate cancer.
The influence of lycopene on an enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia), urination, and levels of PSA (prostate specific antigen) also were evaluated. PSA levels are considered to be a marker for prostate cancer risk, and these levels are often higher than normal in men who have prostate cancer.
In 2015, a team of experts reviewed 26 studies involving 17,517 cases of prostate cancer and 563,299 participants. The reviewers noted a trend toward higher lycopene consumption and lower risk of prostate cancer, although this was not true in every study. In addition, higher intake of lycopene was associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer with a threshold between 9 and 21 mg per day.
Although the evidence thus far suggests that higher lycopene consumption is associated with a lower risk of developing prostate cancer, further studies are needed to identify why this relationship occurs and if there are other factors in tomatoes and tomato foods that contribute to this reduced risk of prostate cancer.
The most recent exploration of the link between lycopene and prostate cancer was published in March 2018 in the Archivosespanoles de urologia. A review of the literature from 1990 to 2015 was conducted and included research in humans. Twenty-seven studies were ultimately chosen for the systematic review, with 13,999 patients in the 22 case-control studies and 187,417 in the five cohort studies. The authors concluded that although they found “statistically significant inverse association between lycopene intake” and the risk of prostate cancer, this evidence came solely from observational studies. They recommended conducting “high-quality randomized clinical trials” to clarify the evidence at hand.
How to get more lycopene
Although you may think that lycopene supplements may be the best way to get this phytochemical, research does not bear this out. In fact, it appears lycopene supplements don’t work and in fact are associated with the risk of nausea, vomiting, stomach upset, and diarrhea. These side effects can be lessened or eliminated if the supplements are taken with food.
Lycopene Supplements: Waste of Money?
However, overall the optimal choice seems to be to eat organic foods rich in lycopene. Other phytochemicals present in tomatoes (and other lycopene foods) may contribute toward the antioxidant’s health benefits, which would not be available in supplements.
Best Sources of Lycopene?
Another tip is to consume cooked tomatoes in healthy oil, such as extra-virgin olive oil, because the body absorbs lycopene better than if you eat tomatoes raw and without oil. For example, an organic tomato sauce with olive oil and garlic served over pasta is a healthy option, as is a fresh tomato soup prepared with cilantro, olive oil, and garlic.
Aside from these products, there are other foods that contain lycopene.
Guava (raw) contains 8,587Micrograms of Lycopene Per Cup, Cherry tomatoes (raw) 3,834, Watermelon 6,979, Papaya 2,651, Grapefruit (pink and red) 3,264, Red Peppers 513, Asparagus (canned) 58 , Red/Purple Cabbage 18 , Mango 5 and Carrots 1.
Lycopene is a fat-soluble nutrient, which means you need to consume it with another food rich in healthy fats to increase absorption. Examples include making homemade tomato sauce containing coconut oil and grass fed beef. Always remember this tip to maximize your lycopene intake.
Multiple studies have pointed out that lycopene has a strong potential for protecting against cancer and cardiovascular disease, as well as other illnesses. If you want to consume more of this powerful carotenoid, I recommend that you get it from natural food sources like tomatoes before relying on a supplement. However, please note that tomatoes are part of the nightshade family, and therefore contain lectins, which can have damaging effects on your health.
If you do wish to get lycopene from tomatoes, I suggest cooking them first, as the heat increases the levels of this nutrient, thereby increasing the amount your body can absorb. Research has shown that when tomatoes are heated to just over 190 degrees Fahrenheit for two minutes, 15 minutes and 30 minutes:
- Beneficial trans-lycopene content increased by 54 percent, 171 percent and 164 percent respectively
- Levels of cis-lycopene (a form easily absorbed by your body) rose by 6 percent, 17 percent and 35 percent respectively
- Overall antioxidant levels increased by 28 percent, 34 percent and 62 percent respectively
Dr. Steven Gundry, author of the book “The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in ‘Healthy’ Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain,” also recommends using a pressure cooker to neutralize the lectins in tomatoes. Do not use slow cookers, as they will actually increase lectin content due to the low cooking temperature.
Lastly, Dr. Mercola also strongly encourages you to purchase your tomatoes (and other lycopene-rich foods for that matter) from organic farmers not only to avoid ingesting dangerous chemicals, but also so you can get more nutrients. In a study published by PLOS One, researchers noted that tomatoes grown using organic standards resulted in elevated phenols compared to those grown using conventional farming methods.
Side Effects of Lycopene Are Minor, but Pregnant Women Need To Be Careful
In general, food sources of lycopene are well-tolerated by the human body. However, you may experience minor side effects, especially if your main source comes from tomatoes. There’s a chance you may develop stomach problems such as diarrhea, nausea, abdominal cramps and gas when you eat too much. Other potential problems that may arise include:
- Allergic reactions or intolerance: If you develop any allergies due to eating large amounts of tomato-based dishes or other high-lycopene foods, try reducing your intake.
- Lycopendodermia: This is a condition that makes your skin develop a reddish color. It usually occurs when you consume excessive amounts of lycopene-rich foods.
- Low blood pressure: Increasing your lycopene intake can lower your blood pressure. If you’re currently taking any form of drugs to maintain low blood pressure, consult with a doctor first to prevent complications from occurring.
Dr. Raphael NyarkoteyObu is a Research Professor of Prostate Cancer and Holistic Medicine –Da Vinci College of Holistic Medicine, Larnaca City, Cyprus. He is the president of Nyarkotey College of Holistic Medicine at Tema, Com 7 Post Office, affiliated to Da Vinci College in Cyprus and the National President of the Alternative Medical Association of Ghana (AMAG). He can be reached on 0541090045. E mail: Oburalph30@yahoo.co.uk