Is it possible that the common tomato can do as good a job at lowering cholesterol as statins, and do it for a fraction of the cost and without horrid side effects? Recent research from Australia is showing the answer to this question is a resounding yes.
These researchers found that 25 mg of lycopene, a carotenoid found in tomatoes, is effective in reducing LDL cholesterol by about 10 percent. This is comparable to the effect of statins at low doses in patients with modestly elevated cholesterol levels.
So how many tomatoes would have to be consumed to get 25 mg of lycopene? Surprisingly, drinking about six ounces of tomato juice on a daily basis would do it!
This study evaluated information from other studies done across the globe over a period of more than five decades. It assessed the relationship between lycopene, the phytochemical giving tomatoes their bright red coloration, and cholesterol levels to draw its conclusions.
The researchers credited lycopene for its antioxidant capacity that retards the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, characterized as ‘bad’ cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is supposedly behind atherosclerosis and lipid peroxidation, meaning the degradation of fats, oils and triglycerides by oxygen.
There’s more to tomatoes than lowered cholesterol
Many types of cancer are initiated by chronic oxidative stress and inflammation. This has made the tomato a superstar in cancer research for its high antioxidant levels and its ability to suppress inflammation.
So far, the most ink has been spent documenting the relationship between prostate cancer and the tomato, and the verdict is in that lycopene from tomatoes reduces cancer risk. Researchers are now busy documenting why that is so.
A study just released has identified gene expression patterns associated with development of prostate cancer which are impacted by lycopene in tomatoes. Study authors noted several mechanisms by which tomatoes and lycopene may be documented in the future, including stem cell features.
Of particular interest is alpha-tomatine, another phytochemical found in green tomatoes that has exhibited the ability to promote apoptosis (appropriate cell death) in already formed prostate cancer cells, and change metabolic activity in prostate cancer cells that are just developing.
Alpha-tomatine has also been studied for its healing properties in non-small cell lung cancer. Researchers found that non-toxic levels of alpha-tomatine significantly suppressed adhesion, invasion, migration, and metastasis of cancerous cells.
A connection between lycopene’s antioxidant properties and bone health has recently been documented. When dietary sources of lycopene were removed for four weeks in postmenopausal women, they showed increased oxidative stress in their bones and regression in bone tissue that increased their risk for osteoporosis.
How to get the best from lycopene?
Tomatoes don’t have to be deep red in color to contain top levels of lycopene. A small study on healthy men and women has shown orange tomatoes may be the better choice because their lycopene is more easily absorbed.
Tomatoes need to be heated in order to release their full abundance of lycopene. This can be accomplished by canning, pasteurization or cooking.
Probably the quickest and easiest way to get optimal lycopene is by buying bottled organic tomato juice from the store. Canned tomato juice is not a good idea because the acidity of tomatoes leaches a chemical known as bisphenol A from the can liners. If you like to cook there are many dishes calling for fresh tomatoes, tomato paste and tomato sauce.
Tomatoes are king of lycopene, but there are other lesser sources. Red sweet bell peppers, ruby red grapefruit and watermelon contain concentrations of lycopene. Supplements of lycopene are available, but it’s probably best to consume lycopene from tomatoes in order to get cofactors.
Other valuable phytochemicals in tomatoes include lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids also found in blueberries, quercetin, also found in apples and onions, and naringenin, also found in grapefruit.