Life Extension Magazine®
Tomatoes on a vine rich in lycopene and beta carotene

Superfoods: Tomatoes

Nutrients in tomatoes have been shown to lower oxidative stress and systemic inflammation.

Scientifically reviewed by: Holli Ryan, RD, LD/N, on December 2020. Written By Laurie Mathena.

Tomatoes are touted for their health benefits today, but they weren’t always viewed so highly. In colonial days, tomatoes were believed to be poisonous, and they didn’t become a staple part of the diet until shortly before the Civil War.

Now, the tomato ranks as the second most consumed vegetable in the US (even though it’s technically a fruit).

Tomatoes provide an array of health benefits that make them a valuable addition to a healthy diet.

Numerous plant compounds contribute to these health benefits. These include beta carotene (which is converted to vitamin A in the body) and naringenin (a flavonoid in tomato skins that reduces inflammation in animal studies).1

But by far, the most beneficial, best-studied compound in tomatoes is the carotenoid that gives tomatoes their vibrant red color: lycopene.

Consuming tomatoes contributes to lower risk of heart disease and cancer—benefits largely due to lycopene.

Studies suggest that lycopene and tomato products can help to:2-4

  • lower biomarkers of oxidative stress,
  • lower TNF-alpha production (a signaling protein involved in systemic inflammation),
  • protect the inner layer of the blood vessels, and
  • decrease the risk of blood clotting.

Low levels of lycopene and beta carotene have been linked to an increased risk of heart attack,5 while higher serum concentrations of lycopene (seen as a marker of tomato intake) decreases the risk of stroke in men.6

Observational studies have shown that people who consume the most tomatoes and tomato products—and those who have the highest lycopene levels—have fewer incidences of numerous types of cancer.7

The strongest benefits were seen in prostate, lung, and stomach cancers—although benefits were also seen in cancers of the pancreas, colon and rectum, esophagus, oral cavity, breast, and cervix.7

The authors of one study concluded, “The consistently lower risk of cancer for a variety of anatomic sites that is associated with higher consumption of tomatoes and tomato-based products adds further support for current dietary recommendations to increase fruit and vegetable consumption.”7

References

  1. Planta Med. 2014 Apr;80(6):437-51.
  2. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2007 Mar;61(3):295-303.
  3. J Agric Food Chem. 2006 Apr 5;54(7):2563-6.
  4. Exp Ther Med. 2012 Apr;3(4):577-84.
  5. Eur J Public Health. 2012 Dec;22(6):835-40.
  6. Neurology. 2012 Oct 9;79(15):1540-7.
  7. JNCI Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 1999;91(4):317-31.