Ralph W. Moss, Ph.D. Weekly CancerDecisions.com
Newsletter #68 01/09/03
Wow, You Coulda Had Some Lycopene!
In a recent study from North Carolina, drinking just one can (5.5
per day of the popular vegetable drink, V-8, raised levels of lycopene
the lungs by 12 percent. It also decreased ozone-induced DNA damage
lungs by 20 percent.
Like beta-carotene, lycopene is a member of the carotenoid family,
of colorful plant compounds that are potent antioxidants. But lycopene
more than just a lung protectant. Evidence continues to accumulate
this phytonutrient has powerful anticancer properties.
Studies have shown that people who eat lots of tomatoes and tomato
have less prostate cancer. For instance, in 1995, the Physicians'
Health Study found a one-third reduction in prostate cancer risk
in the group of men with the highest consumption of tomato products
compared to the group with the lowest consumption. The authors attributed
this protective effect to the lycopene content of tomatoes.
A recent clinical trial from Detroit suggests that lycopene is
also powerful medicine for men who already have prostate cancer.
This trial, from the Karmanos Cancer Institute at Wayne State University,
looked at the impact of short-term lycopene supplements on men who
were facing surgery for newly diagnosed prostate cancer. The 26
patients in this study were randomly assigned to receive either
a tomato extract (containing 30 milligrams of lycopene) or no supplement
for 3 weeks before undergoing radical prostatectomy.
Men who received the lycopene supplement had lower prostate-specific
antigen (PSA) levels and less aggressive tumors than the non-supplemented
control group. Their tumors were smaller (80 percent of the tumors
were under 4 milliliters (ml) in volume, compared to 45 percent
in the control group). Their cancer was much more likely to be within
the surgical margins and/or confined to the prostate gland (73 percent,
compared to 18 percent of the control group). And the invasion of
the prostate gland by cancer-like "PIN" cells was completely
prevented in this group, compared to a 33 percent incidence of "PIN"
cells in the control group.
"This pilot study suggests that lycopene may have beneficial
effects in prostate cancer," concluded researcher Omer Kucuk,
MD, and colleagues. They called for larger clinical trials "to
investigate the potential preventive and/or therapeutic role of
lycopene in prostate cancer."
Lycopene may also help prevent liver cancer, according to findings
from a study presented at the American Association for Cancer Research
meeting in October 2002. Hoyoku Nishino, MD, of the Kyoto Prefectural
University of Medicine, Japan, presented the results of this five-year
clinical study examining the protective role of lycopene and other
nutrients in people at high risk of liver cancer. There was a 50
percent decrease in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC or liver cancer)
in participants who daily consumed 10 milligrams of tomato lycopene
plus other tomato phytonutrients, 10 milligrams of carotenes (30
percent alpha, 60 percent beta-carotene), and 50 milligrams of alpha-tocopherols
and another form of vitamin E, tocotrienols. These results suggest
that a mixture of natural tomato
extract, carotenes and vitamin E has clinical promise.
Skeptics at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) say that "the
evidence is weak that lycopene is associated with a reduced risk
[of prostate cancer] because previous studies were not controlled
for total vegetable intake (i.e., separating the effect of tomatoes
from vegetables in general)." They therefore state that "specific
dietary supplementation with lycopene remains to be demonstrated
to reduce prostate cancer risk." This statement appears on
the NCI's Prostate Cancer Prevention web page, which was updated
in September 2002. However, it does not reference the Detroit study
or any scientific article presented or published after January 2000.
Few scientists doubt that a high intake of fruits and vegetables
can decrease the rate of prostate and other forms of cancer, and
it is surprising, but not implausible, that stepping up vegetable
consumption could downgrade malignancies, even in just one month.
The results reported from the Karmanos Center and elsewhere are
very exciting. Any patient facing cancer would certainly want to
see these dramatic effects on his or her malignancy. The main scientific
question seems to be whether these changes are caused by lycopene
itself or by some other nutrients in vegetables.
But why wait till researchers unravel these scientific mysteries?
Given their many benefits, I suggest that you step up your intake
of tomato products and other antioxidant-rich foods. As the North
Carolina study demonstrates, just one small can of V-8 juice per
day will raise lycopene levels in the lungs by 12 percent. In a
two-week study at Ohio State University, blood lycopene levels were
raised 192 percent by a daily serving of tomato sauce, 122 percent
by tomato soup, and 92 percent by V-8 juice.
If you eat some tomato products every day and then supplement that
with natural carotenes and vitamin E you will get the desired effects.
While V-8 is rich in lycopene (it represents 88 percent of all the
carotenoids in this juice), I would favor an organic version of
the same mixture from the natural foods market. Also, keep in mind
that there is more lycopene in cooked tomato products than in fresh
tomatoes, and the absorption of lycopene by the body is enhanced
by the presence of fat or oil. (This is probably the health rationale
for the Italian custom of dribbling olive oil over fresh tomatoes.)
Lycopene supplements (such as Lyc-O-Mato) are another option. However,
tomato products so readily available, it seems unnecessary to add
another pill to your daily regimen. As I wrote in Antioxidants Against
Cancer (2000), the best source of antioxidants remains the high-quality
organic foods that you consume in your daily diet.
--Ralph W. Moss, PhD
Arab L et al. Lycopene and the lung. Exp Biol Med (Maywood) 2002;227:894-9.
Giovannucci E et al. Intake of carotenoids and retinol in relation
to risk of prostate cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst 1995;87:1767-76.
Kucuk O et al. Effects of lycopene supplementation in patients with
localized prostate cancer. Exp Biol Med (Maywood) 2002;227:881-5.
Food Ingredients First. Lycopene may help prevent liver cancer.
October 12, 2002.
National Cancer Institute. Prostate cancer prevention: PDQ. Prevention
with lycopene. http://www.cancer.gov/cancerinfo/pdq/prevention/prostate/HealthProfessional
The news and other items in this newsletter are intended for informational
purposes only. Nothing in this newsletter is intended to be a substitute
professional medical advice.
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