Lycopene is an antioxidant and the pigment that provides the red color of tomatoes. Because of recent epidemiological studies suggestive of lycopene's role against prostate cancer, the compound has made its way into dietary supplements. These new findings, based on a comprehensive prostate-cancer survival study done on rats, indicate that a combination of the bioactive compounds may offer the best anti-cancer effect.
"It has been unclear whether lycopene itself is protective. This study suggests that lycopene is one factor involved in reducing the risk of prostate cancer," said John Erdman Jr., a professor of food science and human nutrition and of internal medicine at Illinois. "This also suggests that taking lycopene as a dietary supplement is not as effective as eating whole tomatoes. We believe people should consume whole tomato products -- in pastas, in salads, in tomato juice and even on pizza."
The study, which lasted 14 months, appears in the Nov. 5 Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Researchers now suggest that the lycopene found in human prostate tissue and the blood of animals and humans who remain disease free may reflect heightened exposure not just to lycopene but also to other compounds that may be working in synergy with it.
In the new study, researchers in Erdman's laboratory at Illinois randomly assigned 194 male rats treated with a carcinogen to induce prostate cancer to diets containing whole tomato powder, pure lycopene or a control.
Four weeks later, the rats were divided into two groups, with one having unlimited access to food and the second consuming 80
Contact: Jim Barlow
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign