Eating tomatoes may lessen risk of skin cancer

17 July 2017

Daily tomato consumption may be linked to a decreased risk of skin cancer, researchers report.

Academics at Ohio State University have conducted studies into how nutritional interventions can alter the risk for skin cancers.

They gave male mice a diet of 10 per cent tomato powder daily for 35 weeks, then exposed them to ultraviolet (UV) light. On average, the rodents showed a 50 per cent decrease in skin cancer tumours compared to those that ate no dehydrated tomato.

Study co-author Jessica Cooperstone theorises that the relationship between tomatoes and cancer is related to dietary carotenoids, the pigmenting compounds that give tomatoes their colour, and believes that they may protect skin against UV light damage.

Read more: Turn to tomatoes to slow stomach cancer down

"Lycopene, the primary carotenoid in tomatoes, has been shown to be the most effective antioxidant of these pigments," she said. "However, when comparing lycopene administered from a whole food (tomato) or a synthesised supplement, tomatoes appear more effective in preventing redness after UV exposure, suggesting other compounds in tomatoes may also be at play."

Previous human clinical trials suggest that eating tomato paste over time can dampen sunburns, perhaps thanks to carotenoids from the plants that are deposited in the skin of humans after eating, and may be able to protect against UV light damage.

There were no significant differences in tumor number for the female mice in the study. However, prior investigations have shown that male mice develop tumours earlier after UV exposure and that their tumours are more numerous, larger and more aggressive.

"This study showed us that we do need to consider sex when exploring different preventive strategies," said the study's senior author, Tatiana Oberyszyn. "What works in men may not always work equally well in women and vice versa."

Read more: High-fat diets linked to soaring rates of bowel cancer

Cooperstone is currently researching tomato compounds other than lycopene that may impart health benefits.

The full study has been published in journal Scientific Reports.

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