A new study finds that adding tomato powder to the daily diet of mice reduces the development of skin cancer tumors in males. The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.
While the study offers new clues to tomatoes, diet and skin cancer risk, it’s not suggesting you put aside sunscreen for a tomato.
AICR’s most recent review of the global evidence on skin cancer found no strong evidence that diet links to this cancer. Getting too much sun – those ultraviolet (UV) rays – is the cause of most skin cancers so the way to lower your risk is by protecting yourself from UV damage with sunscreen and limiting your time in the sun.
This new study builds on the theory that the phytochemicals in tomatoes are absorbed in the skin and protect against UV damage. Lycopene, the phytochemical that gives tomatoes its red color, is part of a group of carotenoids well studied for its role in cancer prevention.
The study compared three groups of mice consuming different diets, all exposed to ultraviolet B light. (UV-B light is the main cause of sunburns.) One group ate a standard diet. The other two groups ate a diet that included 10 percent either dehydrated red tomatoes or tangerine tomatoes.
After 35 weeks, the male mice fed dehydrated red and tangerine tomatoes had fewer skin tumors compared to mice that ate the standard diet. Here, researchers were only looking at non-melanoma skin cancers, the most common cancer in the United States.
There were no significant differences in tumor number for the female mice in the study. Previous research has shown that male mice develop tumors earlier after UV exposure and that their tumors are more numerous, larger and more aggressive.
Only a few previous studies have investigated tomatoes, lycopene and skin cancer risk and these studies – like this one – are short and non-conclusive.
While this research continues, there are certainly plenty of reasons to eat those lycopene-containing tomatoes, watermelon or other foods. Those fruits and vegetables packed with carotenoids also contain lots of other nutrients and compounds, along with helping you stay a healthy weight – an important step for lower cancer risk. There’s also emerging evidence that eating plenty of carotenoid-containing foods links to lower risk of certain breast cancers.
Want to know where to get your carotenoids? Here’s some tasty ways: