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March 6,  2002

New Harvard Study Shows Men Who Regularly Eat Tomato-Rich Foods May Lower Their Risk of Prostate Cancer

Most Comprehensive Dietary Assessment to Date Confirms Consumption of Tomatoes & Tomato-Based Products May Be 'Prudent'

(SafetyAlerts) - A new comprehensive analysis conducted by a team of Harvard researchers confirms earlier study findings linking diets rich in tomato products to a reduced risk of prostate cancer. The Harvard scientists used the most comprehensive dietary assessment to date of tomato-based products and lycopene intake among a group of more than 47,000 U.S. male health professionals over 12 years. They found that men who consumed two or more servings a week of tomato sauce significantly reduced their risk of developing prostate cancer. One in six American men develop prostate cancer, the leading cancer diagnosed among men in the U.S., resulting in an estimated 30,000 deaths each year.

"Our data suggests it may be prudent to recommend increased consumption of tomato-rich foods. In fact, our study shows that in men, one serving of tomato sauce per week may reduce the risk of prostate cancer," says Edward Giovannucci, M.D., Sc.D., of Harvard School of Public Health, the study's lead researcher. "This recommendation is in keeping with current health guidelines to increase fruit and vegetable consumption."

The Harvard findings, reported in the March 6 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (JNCI), showed that diets that consistently included tomato sauce and foods high in the antioxidant lycopene, might lower the risk of prostate cancer by as much as 35%. Lycopene is the natural pigment that gives tomatoes their red color. Nearly 85% of the dietary lycopene in the American diet is obtained from tomatoes and processed tomato products. According to Dr. Giovannucci, "We observed a stronger association with lycopene and prostate cancer reduction when we took into consideration the body's ability to absorb lycopene. Laboratory studies have shown the body is better able to absorb lycopene from cooked tomatoes and processed tomato products than from raw tomatoes. A small amount of oil has also been shown to enhance absorption." Serving-for-serving, tomato-based products such as tomato soup and tomato sauce are also more concentrated sources of lycopene, with three-to-five times the amount found in a medium raw tomato.

In their conclusions, the researchers noted that beyond lycopene, tomato products might have other beneficial tomato-based components. While they recommend increased consumption of tomatoes and tomato-based foods, they point out that the benefits and safety of lycopene supplements needs to be specifically evaluated.

The potential benefit of lycopene first came to the attention of the public in December 1995, when Dr. Giovannucci and his colleagues at Harvard reported an inverse association between the intake of tomato products and dietary lycopene and prostate cancer. The 1995 study showed that the greatest reduction in risk for prostate cancer (35% lower) was observed in men who consumed more than two servings a week of tomato sauce compared to those who did not or only rarely consumed tomato sauce."

Commenting on the study, Steven Clinton, M.D., Ph.D., Director of Cancer Prevention at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center stated, "These new research findings provide additional valuable insight on the potential role of tomato products in cancer prevention. This study supports similar beneficial effects for several other types of cancer as well as cardiovascular disease."

Dr. Clinton noted that as part of a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables we should consider eating approximately five servings of a variety of tomato products per week. "As little as six ounces of tomato-based vegetable juice, an eight-ounce serving of tomato soup or a half-cup of pasta sauce have been shown to help maintain blood lycopene levels at concentrations associated with good health," he said.

The National Institutes of Health-funded study known as the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study consists of 51,529 U.S. male dentists, optometrists, osteopaths, podiatrists, pharmacists and veterinarians, aged 40 to 76 years in 1986. The current analysis includes the period from 1986 - 1998.

Source: PRNewswire

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