A new study finds that increasing tomato intake in mice reduces the size of skin cancer tumors.
The most commonly found cancers are non-melanoma skin cancers. Each year, non-melanoma skin cancers are diagnosed at higher rates than breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer combined, and their rates are climbing. Despite being one of the cancers with the lowest mortality rates, these cancers are extremely expensive to treat and can leave some patients disfigured for life.
Researchers at Ohio State University searched for new information on how nutritional interventions could affect one’s risk for skin cancers. They created the experiment based on the theory between tomatoes and cancer. The theory states that the “dietary carotenoids, the pigmenting compounds that give tomatoes their color, may protect skin against UV light damage.” The most effective antioxidant pigment found is known to be lycopene, which is the most prevalent carotenoid in tomatoes.
Their experiment used both male and female mice as subjects. They fed the mice a diet that consisted of 10 percent tomato paste over the course of 35 weeks. They then exposed them to ultraviolet (UV) light, to mimic the effects of the sun in developing skin cancers.
Male mice have higher rates of skin cancer than females
Their findings were exclusive to the male mice, who consumed the dehydrated red tomatoes, as the female mice were not nearly as affected by the UV lights or by the change in their diet. It is already known that male mice develop tumors much sooner and after less exposure to UV light than female mice. Their tumors are larger in size and number and are more aggressive than those that female mice develop.
In this experiment, when compared to the mice that ate no tomatoes, the male mice saw a 50 percent decrease in number and size of their skin cancer tumors. There were almost no differences in the female mice, whether they consumed the tomato diet or not. These findings show how important it is to consider biological sex when determining potential treatments, as what works for one clearly does not always work for the other.
Previous studies done on humans have found that consuming tomato paste can reduce the effects of sunburns over time. Scientists believe this may be due to the carotenoids in the plants that when consumed are used by human skin to defend against the damage caused by UV light. Although, when humans consume whole tomatoes rather than a supplement, the effects of the lycopene are greater from the whole tomato. Researchers say that this may be proof that other components of the tomato are also at work to reduce the effects of UV light.
This new study is adding to the already solid foundation of research on the benefits of cancer prevention treatments. “Alternative methods for systemic protection, possibly through nutritional interventions to modulate risk for skin-related diseases, could provide a significant benefit.” Research will continue on the effects that foods can have on reducing and preventing diseases.