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Eating tomatoes could help cut skin cancer 

Research on mice has found that eating tomatoes every day could cut the development of skin cancer tumours by half.

The study by Ohio State University in the US looked at whether daily consumption of tomatoes compared to a tomato-free diet could reduce the number of skin cancer tumours. It is thought that the pigmenting compounds in tomatoes may protect the skin against ultraviolet (UV) light damage.

Tomato powder

The study involved feeding mice tomato powder every day for 35 weeks. The mice were then exposed to UV light. Skin cancer development and number of tumours were tracked. Other mice were not given the tomato powder but were still exposed to the UV light, so that comparisons could be made.

It was found that male mice who were eating the tomato powder experienced, on average, a 50% reduction in skin cancer tumours compared to those mice who did not have the tomato powder.

There were no significant differences in the number of tumours in the female mice in the study. Previous research has shown that male mice develop tumours earlier after UV exposure and that they get more tumours, which are larger and more aggressive.

Carotenoids

Previous studies in humans have suggested that continued consumption of tomato paste can dampen sunburn, due to the carotenoids tomatoes contain. These carotenoids are deposited in the skin of humans after eating, and are thought to protect it from the sun’s harmful UV rays.

The researchers found that only mice fed dehydrated red tomatoes had significant reductions in tumour growth. Those fed with tangerine tomatoes had fewer tumours than the control group, but the difference was not statistically significant.

Effective antioxidant

Study co-author Dr Jessica Cooperstone said: “Lycopene, the primary carotenoid in tomatoes, has been shown to be the most effective antioxidant of these pigments.

“However, when comparing lycopene administered from a whole food (tomato) or a synthesised supplement, tomatoes appear more effective in preventing redness after UV exposure, suggesting other compounds in tomatoes may also be at play.”

She added: “Foods are not drugs, but they can possibly, over the lifetime of consumption, alter the development of certain diseases”.

The study results were published in the journal Scientific Reports. The authors concluded that the data suggest the need for further studies to be carried out to investigate the role that tomatoes play in the development of skin cancer.

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