Tuesday, January 18th 2022

Disease Prevention

The following is taken from an interview of Dr. Venket Rao (University of Toronto) in Tomate et Santé magazine -

Tomate et Santé: So, Dr. Rao, please tell us about this exciting new title, Tomatoes, Lycopene & Human Health: Preventing Chronic Diseases and how it will affect the way tomato products are viewed in the future…

Dr. Venket Rao: In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the availability of scientific and lay publications about the role of fruits and vegetables in human health. Over the last decade lycopene has been singled out as a significant factor and has received increasing amounts of attention on account of its potential role in the prevention of chronic diseases.

This book is a direct result of this growing interest and sets out to summarize the current state of knowledge in this area. Tomatoes, Lycopene & Human Health provides, for the first time,  comprehensive, up to date information on various aspects of tomato lycopene showing how we can protect our health simply through attention to our diet. Internationally recognized experts have contributed chapters to this book which will be of great interest to the scientific community, food related industries, government agencies and also consumers.

The book examines many aspects of tomato lycopene and human health including dietary guidelines recommending increased consumption of plant foods for the prevention of chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and diabetes. Scientists are actively investigating the role of these nutrients in human health and how they can protect us. Much attention has been focused on oxidative stress-induced cellular damage which is recognized as leading to the progression of chronic diseases. Antioxidants play an important role in stopping the harmful effects of oxidative stress.

Tomate et Santé: Does this mean that simply consuming more tomato products such as sauces or soups can really protect our health?

Dr. Venket Rao: The text shows how lycopene can now be referred to as a chemopreventive agent especially as new scientific evidence suggests the cancer preventing effects of lycopene may be the result of its synergistic interactions with other phytonutrients such as phytoene, phytofluenes and alpha-carotene found in tomatoes and tomato products. These positive interactions have led to the term ‘combination prevention’ of cancer.

There is growing evidence that a diet rich in carotenoids can protect against CVD. A review of epidemiological (population) studies provides convincing evidence in favor of a protective role for lycopene. This book discusses a new, five year science project called Lycocard which is devoting substantial resources to study the role of lycopene in the prevention of CVD. Lycocard is a multidisciplinary consortium of scientists, technologists, and patient organisations composed of fifteen partners from six European countries. The result of the programme will lead to new dietary guidelines which propose a higher intake of foods rich in lycopene, especially tomato and tomato products.

Tomate et Santé: Does the book cover any other areas of science which affect different aspects of human health?

Dr. Venket Rao: Another chronic disease currently being investigated is osteoporosis, a major metabolic bone disease that primarily affects women and men over the age of 50. One risk factor is oxidative stress caused by reactive oxygen species (ROS). Lycopene has been suggested in the prevention of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women based on epidemiological data. This is a new and very exciting area of study and could provoke serious dietary considerations for all people seeking to protect against this silent disease.

There are also chapters on hypertension, a significant factor in coronary heart diseases with oxidative stress now recognized as a component and also on male infertility which is an important condition also addressed. Due to its composition, sperm is highly vulnerable to oxidative damage. A recently completed study shows how lycopene acting as an antioxidant can improve sperm quality.

A newer development is the application of lycopene is in cosmeceutical products. UV irradiation of human skin leads to photo-oxidative damage associated with adverse effects on skin health and appearance. Supplying the skin with micronutrients may produce a degree of photo-protection. in humans. It concludes that the health benefits of tomatoes and lycopene will have a significant positive impact on the tomato industry in the future.

Tomate et Santé: so…. how much do we need to consume to really make a difference in protecting our health?

Dr. Venket Rao: Since humans do not synthesize lycopene, it has to be provided through diet. There is a general agreement among scientists that the average intake of lycopene is lower than required to obtain its beneficial effects. More recent studies show that a daily intake of 7-8 mg is enough to maintain sufficient levels of lycopene to fight oxidative stress and prevent chronic diseases. That’s one medium sized glass of tomato juice or a fair serving of a good tomato pasta sauce.

Tomate et Santé: That all sounds amazing, but what about the future?

Dr. Venket Rao: While many great advances have been made over the past decade, several key areas
remain to be explored. These include: Epidemiological studies to investigate the relationship between the consumption of tomatoes, tomato products and other sources of lycopene and cancer, cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis, hypertension and neurodegenerative diseases. Research to develop tomato varieties with a high lycopene content that can be grown in high yield as well as being disease and pest-resistant. Studies to investigate the beneficial interactions between lycopene and pharmaceutical drugs being used to treat chronic diseases. And best of all, expanding the scope of the effects of lycopene beyond disease prevention to the actual treatment of chronic diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Tomate et Santé: Dr. Rao, if you had to describe in simple non scientific terms what all of this really means, how would you do it?

Dr. Venket Rao: Okay, here we go. I’ll provide you a list of terms and explanations which cover most of the science discussed in the book. In simple terms, the best metaphor for describing what some of the terms contained in this volume mean is to describe the human body as a car. With a car, whatever the model, the same physical rules apply. The car will age with the passing of time and during this time it will be continuously attacked by exposure to the elements.

Oxidative Stress: Quite simply we can describe oxidative stress (oxidation) as the rusting of the car. The metal reacts with oxygen forming a brown coloured oxide which ruins the paint work and what you are left with is rust. Now if you allow that to continue it won’t be long before the continuous rusting action leaves an unsightly hole in the bodywork and its time for a new door panel and a re-spray. In human terms though we cannot simply go the body shop, we have to consider some other way to control the rusting action.

Antioxidants: Anti-rust treatment for your body. There are many nutritional elements which can do this but lycopene is one of the most effective. Tomatoes, especially processed tomato products also contain other nutrients which act and work together to increase their anti-rusting effects.

Phytochemicals: This group of chemicals are the plant’s own self defence system against the sun and the elements. They are extremely potent and very effective and they also work for humans. Humans cannot make these chemicals in the body, they have to be ingested (eaten) as part of your healthy diet.

Carotenoids: Essentially, the colour pigmentation of food as provided by Mother Nature. Lycopene is part of this family. Beta- carotene is what makes carrots orange and lycopene is what makes tomatoes red. Carotenoids are efficient free radical scavengers making them good for plants and good for us.

Free Radicals: These include oxy-radicals (or by another alias, singlet oxygen) and also ROS or reactive oxygen species. But not all free radicals are ROS and not all ROS are free radicals. It is these reactive molecules which cause the rusting action (oxidative stress). Free radicals effectively run around just looking for something to react with. That can be bad news if initiation, promotion or progress of a chronic disease is provoked. Antioxidants in the diet will find and quench (neutralize) these damaging molecules preventing further or ongoing harm. They can be stopped and the easiest way is by including more antioxidant rich foods in your diet.

Bioavailability: So how do we get the best from our dietary intake of foods which contain these chemicals? In the case of tomatoes, the heat from processing (effectively cooking) breaks open the cell matrix unlocking the most effective parts of the lycopene. This means you can absorb more of the right nutrients and enjoy an increased level of benefit to your health. This is bioavailability. Note, the same essential nutrients are found in fresh tomato but are much more available from processed. Therefore tomato juice or a good rich tomato pasta sauce provide some of the best ways to access these nutrients.

Tomate et Santé: Thank you Dr. Rao for taking the time to explain this complex and yet simple issue. It looks like this new book title will certainly change the way people look at tomato and tomato products in the future.

This is a food which protects and heels, amazing!!

The book is available from the Caledonian website at