Doctor’s Orders: Eat Tomatoes and Grapefruit to Get Lycopene Into Your Diet

It appears that lycopene, an antioxidant, fights cancer and reduces high blood pressure

In this handout photo illustration provided by the John Innes Centre UK, purple tomatoes are seen on October 27, 2008 in Norwich, United Kingdom.

Tomatoes are an excellent source if Lycopene. Photo: John Innes Centre UK via Getty Images

There is a very special and powerful substance hiding within the fibers of fruits and veggies. This naturally occurring substance is lycopene, a type of pigment called a carotenoid giving fruits and vegetables them their beautiful rosy red hues. Lycopene is an impressive antioxidant found in watermelons, pink grapefruits, apricots, pink guavas, and of course, is found in particularly high amounts in tomatoes.

Reduced prostate cancer risk

Lycopene’s main claim to fame is its link to lowering the risk for prostate cancer. Several studies have found lycopene’s power in reducing the aggressive potential of prostate cancer by inhibiting the growth in tumor development. It has also been found that men with low prostatic lycopene levels were more likely to be diagnosed with the disease.

A meta-analysis found that men consuming high intakes of tomato or tomato-based products had a 10% to 20% decrease in prostate cancer risk and that high serum or plasma concentrations of lycopene were associated with a 25% decreased risk.

Another systematic review and meta-analysis in the Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology showed that men with the highest intake of raw tomato had a 19% decreased risk of prostate cancer compared with men who had the lowest intake.

It appears that lycopene fights cancer by reducing the spread of cancerous cells. Also, as an antioxidant, lycopene works to neutralize compounds known as free radicals that can damage DNA and other cell structures that lead to inflammation and cancer development.

Reduced high blood pressure risk

Another disease lycopene plays a role in protecting against is high blood pressure or hypertension. A review of studies showed individuals with a higher intake of lycopene may help reduce hypertension, a leading cause of cardiovascular disease.

Maximizing the effectiveness of lycopene

To gain the most benefits lycopene has to offer, absorption happens best when combined with some dietary fat since it is a fat-soluble nutrient. A couple of ideas for this is to combine olive oil and tomato sauce or feta cheese sprinkled over a tomato salad.

It is the tomato-based products that are the most reliable food sources of lycopene including tomato juice, sun-dried tomatoes, and tomato paste. Eating an uncooked tomato is actually not the best way to absorb lycopene. It is better absorbed from tomato products that have been heated which opens up their cell walls, allowing improved access to the health aspects lycopene contains.

Lycopene supplements often do not deliver the same disease-thwarting powers as consuming tomato-based products. It appears that lycopene works together with other compounds found in foods helping to bring about the important health perks that a supplement simply containing only lycopene does not.

Dr. Samadi is a board-certified urologic oncologist trained in open and traditional and laparoscopic surgery and is an expert in robotic prostate surgery. He is chairman of urology, chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital and professor of urology at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. He is a medical correspondent for the Fox News Channel’s Medical A-Team Learn more at roboticoncology.com. Visit Dr. Samadi’s blog at SamadiMD.com. Follow Dr. Samadi on Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest and Facebook.