Dr Dale Peterson, Lycopene, cancer, tomato paste, pectin

Ask the Doc: What is lycopene?

Ask the Doc: What is lycopene?

© 2000 Dr. Dale Peterson; © 2006 Wellness Clubs of America.com

Iíve been hearing of something called lycopene. What can you tell me about it? J.C.

Dear J.C.,  Lycopene is a chemical found in certain fruits. Tomatoes (which are technically a fruit) contain the highest levels. Watermelons and pink grapefruit contain about half the amount found in tomatoes and apricots carry a trace amount.

Lycopene is a carotinoid, meaning that it is related to beta-carotene and vitamin A. It has been shown to be helpful in preventing certain cancers, particularly those in the digestive tract. In one study people who ate a serving of raw tomato once a week had a 40 % lower incidence of esophageal cancer. Elderly people who ate tomatoes regularly were found to have a 50 % decrease in cancers of all types.

Lycopene is apparently not broken down by processing. Men who consumed tomato sauce in the form of pizza topping were found to have lower rates of prostate cancer in yet another study. I suspect that enterprising manufacturers will soon be promoting lycopene capsules, but this is one nutrient that can easily be obtained through the diet and I would recommend that you eat tomato products rather than taking the capsules as they may contain other beneficial , but as yet unidentified, substances.

For example, pectin, a fiber found in tomatoes and concentrated in tomato paste, has documented anti-cancer benefits. To attribute the reduction in prostate cancer rates in men eating tomato paste solely to lycopene could be a fatal mistake. -Dr. Peterson

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