What is Lycopene?
Lycopene is a naturally occurring chemical that gives fruits and vegetables a red color. It is one of a number of pigments called carotenoids. Lycopene is found in watermelons, pink grapefruits, apricots, and pink guavas. It is found in particularly high amounts in tomatoes and tomato products. In North America, 85% of dietary lycopene comes from tomato products such as tomato juice or paste. One cup (240 mL) of tomato juice provides about 23 mg of lycopene. Processing raw tomatoes using heat (in the making of tomato juice, tomato paste or ketchup, for example) actually changes the lycopene in the raw product into a form that is easier for the body to use. The lycopene in supplements is about as easy for the body to use as lycopene found in food.
What People Consume Lycopene for?
People take lycopene for preventing heart disease, "hardening of the arteries" (atherosclerosis); and cancer of the prostate, breast, lung, bladder, ovaries, colon, and pancreas. Lycopene is also used for treating human papilloma virus (HPV) infection, which is a major cause of uterine cancer. Some people also use lycopene for cataracts and asthma.
Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that may help protect cells from damage. This is why there is a lot of research interest in lycopene’s role, if any, in preventing cancer.
Tomatoes and Pancreatic Cancer Risks
Although fruits and vegetables have been implicated in the etiology of pancreatic cancer, the role of phytochemicals in these food groups has received little attention to date. In this study, we investigated the possible association between dietary carotenoids and pancreatic cancer risk. A case-control study of 462 histologically confirmed pancreatic cancer cases and 4721 population-based controls in 8 Canadian provinces took place between 1994 and 1997. After adjustment for age, province, BMI, smoking, educational attainment, dietary folate, and total energy intake, lycopene, provided mainly by tomatoes, was associated with a 31% reduction in pancreatic cancer risk among men when comparing the highest and lowest quartiles of intake. Both beta-carotene and total carotenoids were associated with a significantly reduced risk among those who never smoked. The results of this study suggest that a diet rich in tomatoes and tomato-based products with high lycopene content may help reduce pancreatic cancer risk.
This occurs when the pancreas doesn't make enough enzymes for adequate digestion. Pancreatic insufficiency isn't a disease but a sign of an underlying problem. It typically results from damage to the pancreas, such as due to chronic inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis) or cystic fibrosis. So, tomatoes supposedly stimulate the secretion of digestive enzymes, especially of the pancreas.
Tomatoes and Other Cancers
The first study to reveal tomatoes' anticancer properties, conducted in 1989, had found that men who consumed one or more weekly servings of tomato sauce reduced their risk of prostate cancer by as much as 60%. Another large 12-year study of more than 47,000 men by Harvard researchers in 2002 found similar effects. Since then, however, other studies have failed to show the same benefits.
In spite of the certain evidence, that tomatoes can be considered as food, reducing the pancreatic cancer risk, the Food and Drug Administration has decided that the evidence is still inconclusive, and tomatoes, so rich in antioxidants and other good things such as beta carotene, may not offer substantial protection against many types of cancer. The agency responded July 2011 to applications from two tomato-product groups, including H.J. Heinz Co., which planned to tout the anticancer benefits of tomatoes on their product labels. After a review of dozens of studies, the FDA claimed that there was "very limited evidence" to support any association between tomato consumption and reduced risks of prostate, gastric and pancreatic cancers. As for the believed cancer-fighting effects of lycopene, the key anti-cancer fighting ingredient in tomatoes, the FDA was even more discouraging, saying there was "no credible evidence" to suggest that the chemical could reduce the risk of such cancers of the prostate, lung, colon, breast, ovaries or pancreas.
The FDA statement has definitely cooled down all the lycopene related researches, however some scientists believe that that there is indeed a growing body of clinical evidence suggesting that food, rich in lycopene such as tomatoes, might have beneficial effects on the development of certain cancers, especially prostate cancer and pancreatic cancer.
Although a clear cause–effect relationship between tomato products, lycopene and cancer risk has not yet been established, and further research is urgently needed to draw a definitive conclusion, many clinical researchers still strongly believe in the possibility that a higher consumption of tomato products or lycopene is safe and may have potential benefits for lowering the risk of cancer as well as of other severe pathologies (e.g., atherosclerosis).
Tomatoes are safe when used as a food. A specific tomato extract (Lyc-O-Mato) might also be safe when used for up to eight weeks. Tomato is also safe for pregnant and breast-feeding women in food amounts.
The tomato leaf is UNSAFE. In large amounts, tomato leaves can cause poisoning. Symptoms of poisoning may include dizziness, stupor, headache, bradycardia, respiratory disturbances, mild spasms, and, in very severe cases, death through respiratory failure could occur. Signs of poisoning are not to be expected with less than 100 g of the fresh leaves (or green Tomatoes).
It is recommended to cook tomatoes in olive oil to double the lycopene amount absorb, and to eat more cooked tomato products like sauces, which pack more lycopene than raw tomatoes.
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