Can tomatoes protect against cancer?

September 18, 2000

Chronic illnesses, including cancer and cardiovascular disease, are the main causes of death in developed countries. Along with genetic factors and age, lifestyle and diet are also considered important risk factors for these diseases. For instance, about 50% of all cancers have been attributed to diet.

Oxidative damage to cells is thought to be part of the mechanism behind several chronic diseases. Dietary antioxidants such as the common tomato have been identified as some of the strongest antioxidants and lycopene, a carotenoid pigment found in red fruits and vegetables, is one of the most potent antioxidants known.

In this issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Sanjiv Agarwal and Akkinappally Venketeshwer Rao review the mechanism of action and the evidence for the protective effect of a diet high in lycopene. They conclude that while dietary recommendations to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants has generated interest in the role of lycopene in disease prevention, further research is critical to spell out the role of this disease fighter and to formulate guidelines for healthy eating.
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Tomato lycopene and its role in human health and chronic diseases - S. Agarwal, A. Rao

Canadian Medical Association Journal

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