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Catch-up with Ketchup

While you wait for your tomato crop to bear fruit, pass the ketchup!

Could tomato ketchup help cut breast cancer risk?
by JAMES CHAPMAN, Daily Mail

You can't yet get it on prescription, but researchers are again proclaiming the unlikely health benefits of a dietary favourite.

Both breast cancer and the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis could be prevented by eating tomato ketchup, they suggest.

The secret is a substance called lycopene, which gives tomatoes their red colour.

In recent years, several studies have suggested that consumption of tomato products rich in lycopene may protect against prostate cancer in men. But two new studies suggest lycopene may also be beneficial to women's health.

In the first, Dr Joseph Levy, of the Ben-Gurion University in Israel, tested the effects of lycopene and two other tomato nutrients, phytoene and phytofluene, on breast cancer cells.

When the cells were exposed to low levels of the nutrients, they continued to grow dramatically.
But when they were treated with higher levels of the natural combination of tomato lycopene, phytoene and phytofluene, the proliferation of cancer cells was stopped.

The second study, by Dr Leticia Rao, of the University of Toronto, suggested a diet rich in tomatoes can also help prevent osteoporosis, or brittle bone disease. A third of older women suffer from the condition, leaving them vulnerable to fractures.

Dr Rao tested the impact of lycopene on two different kinds of body cells - osteoblasts, which maintain bone mass, and osteoclasts, which destroy bone. In osteoporosis, osteoclasts are overactive.

'What we found was that lycopene prevents the activity of the "bad" cells,' said Dr Rao. 'We think it is a very important finding.

'Osteoporosis is called the silent disease, because by the time it's detected a lot of the damage is done. 'Though it is thought of as a disease of old age, peak bone mass is reached by the age of about 35 and it's downhill from there.

'If you have a better bone mass then, you will be protected against osteoporosis in later life.

'So I think it is important that people get enough tomato lycopene all the way through their lives.'
She and her husband, Dr Venket Rao, another expert on lycopene, plan to test the impact of pills containing tomato extract on 100 patients with osteoporosis.

'From our studies so far, we think that 8oz of tomato juice, 150gm of pasta sauce, or one lycopene tablet a day are sufficient to maintain the right lycopene levels in the body,' he said. 'Unfortunately, many people are not getting enough from their diet.'

Unusually, lycopene becomes more readily absorbed by the body after tomatoes have been processed. So lycopene in a tomato pasta sauce or even tomato ketchup is more potent than that in fresh tomatoes.
Alternatively, experts say that Lyc-O-Mato, a natural supplement containing 15mg of tomato lycopene, the equivalent of six tomatoes, is a good way to enhance the protective effect.

Other studies have suggested that tomato supplements or a tomatorich diet can help ward off prostate cancer. One of the biggest, involving almost 50,000 men, showed that eating tomato sauce twice a week could reduce the risk by up to a third.

Dr Edward Giovannucci, a nutrition expert at Harvard Medical School who led the 12-year study, said ketchup is an ideal source of lycopene because it contains high concentrations of the compound due to the thermal processing used in its manufacture.

'Tomato sauce captures most of the lycopene,' he said.

Although lycopene is found in foods such as shellfish, watermelon and pink grapefruit, tomatoes are the richest source.

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