Monday, January 28, 2013

Go to Health: Tomatoes All Year!

You might not expect that the latest on the benefits of tomatoes would come from the Lapland Central Hospital in Finland. Despite their short growing season, Finns are said to love tomatoes when they can get them. Finnish researchers studied what blood factors (from diet) were associated with a lowered risk of stroke in men, expecting to find correlations with levels of vitamins E and A. Instead, they found that men in the highest quartile of serum lycopene had a 55- 59% lower risk of stroke than those in the lowest quartile. Alpha and beta carotene, vitamin E and A were not associated with stroke risk.

Researchers at the College of Nursing, University of Kentucky, found that patients with heart failure who had the highest intake of tomatoes in their diet had longer times between adverse cardiac events.

Studies from Chungbuk National University in Korea found that tomato extract added to the diets of mice caused weight loss, despite a high-fat diet. Total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol were also reduced.

Studies from the University of Talca in Argentina found that rats supplemented with tomato extract had a reduction of platelet clumping, which would reduce blood clotting and improve blood flow.

Recent Canadian studies have looked at post menopausal women between 50 and 60 who were given lycopene-rich tomato juice, lycopene supplements or a placebo for 4 months. They were tested for blood markers of osteoporosis. Those taking tomato juice or lycopene were found to have reduced levels of bone breakdown compared to those given placebo. Subsequently, these researchers studied women who were told to restrict their intake of tomatoes or lycopene; in this study bone markers for osteoporosis were significantly increased.

U.S. studies from the 1990’s looking at male health professionals showed that frequent intake of tomato products was associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer. Because further studies could not confirm this finding, Harvard researchers did a careful re-analysis in 2002 and again found a moderately reduced risk.

Tomatoes, which originated in South America and were first cultivated in Mexico, are clearly loved all around the world. Enjoy them! Do not start taking a lycopene supplement after reading this column. Excess intake of single carotenes may be counterproductive. There are many factors in tomatoes besides lycopene that can be healthy. Do start eating more tomato products while waiting for the ripe ones to come back into season. Tomato paste and low sodium organic Very Veggie are great choices – you can find them in our local stores in glass containers – free of BPA (Bisphenol A) and other chemicals. You can preserve homemade tomato sauce when they are in season; people lacking the time or expertise for home canning can simply freeze them. Here’s a great website from the University of Nebraska on easy ways to preserve tomatoes -

The beneficial compounds in tomatoes are best absorbed when eaten with fat, so include a healthy oil, such as olive oil, in your cooking or on your salad. Be careful of the high sodium content in many commercial tomato soups and sauces. You probably know that watermelon is also a good source of lycopene.

Next month I’m going to write about the amazing abilities of silkworm cocoons to keep vaccines and antibiotics cool, even in areas of extreme summer heat. This could be a great boon to immunization programs in Africa and Southeast Asia. Stay tuned!

Sadja Greenwood MD back issues

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