While earlier studies indicated a connection between lycopene, an antioxidant found in tomatoes and tomato products, and cancer prevention, a 2007 study shows no lower rates of prostate cancer in men with higher levels of lycopene in their diet.
2007 Study: No Cancer Prevention from Lycopene
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor:
We are back now as promised with NBC News In Depth. Perhaps you have seen those ads promoting lycopene, the anti-oxidant said to help prevent prostate cancer. It's an ingredient found in tomatoes. It's now an additive found in a lot of vitamin blends. And now there's a new study that may change some minds on this. We get the story tonight from NBC News chief science correspondent Robert Bazell.
ROBERT BAZELL, reporting:
The study out today throws a rotten tomato at what many believed was an appealing way to reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
Dr. ULRIKE PETERS (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center): Our study found that serum lycopene concentration, which are mainly found in tomato products, are not associated with prostate cancer risk.
BAZELL: The idea started with studies showing that men who ate lots of tomatoes and tomato products like spaghetti sauce, seemed to get less prostate cancer. Next, some scientists suggested the reason might be that tomatoes contained lycopene, a type of natural chemical called an anti-oxident that some people think prevents cancer. Lycopene supplements started selling wildly, and even Heinz ketchup won FDA approval to put on a label bragging that tomato products contain lots of lycopene.
But the latest study looked at tens of thousands of men and found the amount of lycopene in their bodies had no effect on their chances of getting prostate cancer. So does this mean tomatoes are bad are you? Of course not. But it is another demonstration that the well-known health benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables are not so easy to understand.
So the take home message remains the same:
Dr. PETERS: I would say to any man that they should try to keep a healthy diet, eat a lot of fruits and vegetables.
BAZELL: And the experts say everyone should keep that in mind while they try to sort out the conflicting studies. Robert Bazell, NBC News, Washington.
CHICAGO — Researchers tried a big serving of food psychology and a dollop of trickery to get diners to eat their vegetables. And it worked.