Tomatoes are known to be rich in antioxidants that are beneficial for health. Findings from a new study suggest that daily consumption of tomatoes may also reduce the risk of developing skin cancer by up to 50%.
The study, published by Scientific Reports, examined how nutrition may play a role in skin cancer development in mice models.
The authors discovered that male mice fed a diet enriched with tomato powder for 35 weeks were 50% less likely to develop skin cancer after exposure to UV light compared with mice fed a standard diet, according to the study.
The investigators hypothesize that dietary carotenoids—the pigment that makes tomatoes red—protects the skin against UV damage.
Despite the significant findings in male mice, the results were not replicated in female mice. Previous studies have suggested that male mice develop tumors soon after UV exposure and their tumors are more aggressive and are numerous, according to the authors.
“This study showed us that we do need to consider sex when exploring different preventive strategies,” said senior study author, Tatiana Oberyszyn, PhD. “What works in men may not always work equally well in women and vice versa.”
Previous clinical trials in humans suggest that consuming tomato paste can lessen sunburns over time. The authors of the current study hypothesize that eating the fruit deposits carotenoids in the skin, providing protection against UV light.
“Lycopene, the primary carotenoid in tomatoes, has been shown to be the most effective antioxidant of these pigments,” said co-author Jessica Cooperstone, PhD. “However, when comparing lycopene administered from a whole food (tomato) or a synthesized supplement, tomatoes appear more effective in preventing redness after UV exposure, suggesting other compounds in tomatoes may also be at play.”
Interestingly, the authors noted that red tomatoes were the only type to significantly reduce skin cancer growth compared with the control group. Mice fed tangerine tomatoes, which are higher in bioavailable lycopene, had less tumors compared with the control group, but the finding was not statistically significant, according to the study.
The investigators are currently studying compounds in tomatoes other than lycopene that may play a role in improving health and decreasing cancer risk.
Non-melanoma skin cancers are the most common form of the disease, with more than 5.4 million new cases in 2012 alone. While the mortality rate for the disease remains low, skin cancer is costly and can be disfiguring.
If further studies determine the beneficial compounds in tomatoes, it may provide additional cancer prevention approaches.
“Alternative methods for systemic protection, possibly through nutritional interventions to modulate risk for skin-related diseases, could provide a significant benefit,” Dr Cooperstone concluded. “Foods are not drugs, but they can possibly, over the lifetime of consumption, alter the development of certain diseases,” she said.