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Tomatoes and natural tomato complex may be the ultimate women’s health food

Heart disease, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, skin cancer, endometrial cancer and osteoporosis— what do they have in common? They are all caused by oxidative stress, they attack women and they can all be prevented by tomatoes. The tomato may very well be one of nature’s most perfect foods, containing phytonutrients that help prevent oxidative damage which serves to protect against the leading health problems of women.

Tomatoes, as well as natural tomato extracts like Lyc-O-Mato®, the subject of well-publicized research,1 contain a variety of health benefiting phytonutrients: lycopene and beta carotene, as well as antioxidant tocopherols (vitamin E), phytosterols and the less well-known carotenoids, phytoene and phytofluene. Studies have shown that these natural substances decrease the proliferation of human cancer cells and support cardiovascular health. Recent data suggest that they may even be important in maintaining bone health.2

Oxidative stress occurs when our cells are bombarded with free radicals, by the sun and other environmental factors. When free radicals occur in excess, they damage the structure and function of our cells. The resulting oxidative stress leads to degenerative conditions such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help offset this damage because of the antioxidant carotenoids, which act as free radical quenchers.

The combination of lycopene, phytoene and phytofluene present in tomatoes has specifically been shown to decrease cancer risk. The human body does not produce lycopene on its own; women should be conscious of eating a lycopene and phytonutrient-rich diet, or taking an all-natural tomato extract supplement. Here are some reasons why.

Heart disease is a major women’s health threat
According to the American Heart Association cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women in the United States today, killing more than all forms of cancer, accidents, pneumonia and diabetes combined.3 Risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking and a family history of heart disease.

High cholesterol is defined as high bad cholesterol (LDL > 120) or low good cholesterol (HDL > 40). Treatment includes recommendations for diet and lifestyle changes and often prescription medications, which can have dangerous, occasionally deadly side effects. Many women, unprepared for the unexpected challenges inherent in making lifestyle changes and concerned with the effects of cholesterol-lowering drugs, are perplexed as to how best to approach their cholesterol problem.

Cholesterol is harmful because LDL cholesterol gets oxidized, which makes it sticky. It is then able to adhere to injuries in the artery wall and unless HDL cholesterol comes in and takes it away, it builds up, causing partial or total blockage of blood flow. Dr. Michael Aviram, head of the Lipid Research Laboratory at the Technion Institute of Technology Faculty of Medicine and Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel, has been researching the effects of a natural tomato extract on LDL. Dr. Aviram found that Lyc-O-Mato, a naturally produced tomato complex extract, renders LDL cholesterol 90 percent more resistant to oxidation. Protecting LDL from oxidation reduces the likelihood it will adhere to artery walls and block blood flow.

High blood pressure contributes to 75 percent of all strokes and heart attacks. High blood pressure does not give symptoms—32 percent of people with hypertension are unaware they have it. According to new research, the millions of American women suffering from high blood pressure may also benefit from Lyc-O-Mato. Esther Paran, M.D., found evidence that Lyc-O-Mato tomato complex may help lower blood pressure in hypertensive patients.4 Dr. Paran found systolic blood pressure was lowered an average of 9mmHG. Diastolic blood pressure was lowered an average of 4.5mmHG. These results are comparable to the level to which blood pressure is lowered through prescription drug intervention. Beneficial effects on blood lipids, lipoproteins and oxidative stress markers were also noted in the study. Supplementing your diet with tomato products or Lyc-O-Mato is an important step towards achieving total heart health, particularly after menopause, when women’s cardiovascular disease risk approaches that of men’s.

Protect against skin cancer from the inside out
Skin cancer has become the most common type of cancer in the United States. Approximately one million new cases will be diagnosed this year, while thousands of deaths will be attributed to malignant melanoma. By your 65th birthday, you have a nearly one in two chance of having skin cancer at least once.

In addition to avoiding the sun and using sunscreen, studies indicate that antioxidant-rich foods such as tomatoes and oranges, can help protect skin against sun damage. Recent data shows that UV radiation penetrates deep into the skin, generating free radicals and negatively impacting the immune system. Left alone, these free radicals disrupt the normal cell functioning and impair the body’s immune response, ultimately leading to skin cancer. Antioxidants help offset this damage, protecting and enhancing the immune response in the body.5 The combination of antioxidant carotenoids in tomatoes is particularly well adapted to this task. Current research is directed toward elucidating this protective effect.

The ingredients in tomatoes may help protect against other forms of cancer
Dr. Edward Giovannucci, from Harvard Medical School, recently reviewed 72 epidemiological studies,6 and found that 52 of those studies pointed to the role of tomatoes and tomato products in reducing the risk of a variety of cancers. This is especially important news for women because lycopene, combined with phytoene and phytofluene, has been shown to interfere with breast and endometrial cancer cell growth, help prevent tumors and reduce the progression of new ones and is associated with a reduced risk of ovarian cancer. The beneficial effects of tomatoes and natural tomato complex becomes even more relevant for women when the topic is breast cancer, the leading cancer in women.

Drs. J. Levy and Y. Sharoni of the faculty of Health Sciences, Ben-Gurion University and Soroka Medical Center in Israel, have focused their breast and endometrial cancer cell research on the synergistic relationship existing between the various vital tomato phytonutrients.7 Their results have moved us closer to understanding the importance of the whole tomato extract in the prevention of cancer. They found that when human breast cancer cells in vitro were incubated with low concentrations of the lycopene preparation plus a low concentration of phytoene/phytofluene as opposed to lycopene alone, there was a dramatic decrease in breast cancer cell proliferation.

This research shows the importance of synergy in the role of all tomato phytonutrients in fighting breast cancer. It is not just the lycopene or any other single tomato phytochemical that delivers the health benefits but rather, it is the complex interaction of the tomato phytonutrients that holds the promise of new advances and approaches to prevention and treatment of breast cancer. Further supporting data comes from Swedish researchers who also found a correlation between blood levels of lycopene combined with other plasma-carotenoids and the reduced risk of developing breast cancer. This association seemed particularly strong in postmenopausal women.8

Ovarian cancer is one of the most deadly of the women’s cancers, because unfortunately we cannot detect ovarian cancer until the disease has progressed to advanced stages. Treatment of ovarian cancer has not been successful so most scientists continue to work on improved screening techniques. Others are focusing on prevention. In a study published by the International Journal of Cancer, researchers found that lycopene intake has been significantly and inversely associated with the risk of ovarian cancer, predominantly in pre-menopausal women.9

Consumption of fruits, vegetables and food items high in carotene and lycopene reduce the risk of ovarian cancer. Foods most strongly related to that decreased risk are raw carrots and tomato sauce. Likewise, Canadian researchers studying the dietary habits of women diagnosed with endometrial cancer found that the dietary intake of most major nutrients were not related to the risk of the disease except for the intake of lycopene-rich foods such as tomatoes, which proffered some decrease in the risk of endometrial cancer.10

Keep your bones healthy
Preliminary results of some new studies show that lycopene, in combination with low concentrations of the active metabolite of vitamin D, induce the synthesis of well established markers for bone formation. These results suggest that carotenoids, such as those found in tomato extract, may also be associated with improved bone health and are therefore an important component in the diet of menopausal women.11 Ongoing data will be important in determining the precise function of carotenoids in maintaining bone density and preventing osteoporosis.

The studies in this article show that women in particular benefit from the consumption of lycopene and other tomato phytonutrients: phytoene, phytofluene, tocopherols and phytosterols. The synergistic effects of these tomato components help prevent the oxidative stress and damage that leads to heart disease, hypertension, various cancers and osteoporosis.

Oil facilitates the body’s absorption of lycopene in prepared foods. Not only is it important to look at the lycopene content but what other tomato nutrients are present. Processed tomato products, and those containing oil, are better than raw products or fruits. If you cannot get six or seven servings of tomato-based products in your weekly diet, you should be taking an all natural lycopene extract such as Lyc-O-Mato, which is the only all-natural lycopene complex that delivers lycopene in the tomato’s own oil, complete with natural vitamin E and other phytonutrients.

Cathleen London, M.D., is a board-certified family practice physician whose holistic approach to health care integrates a combination of Western allopathic medicine, diet and lifestyle modification and alternative medicine. She is an assistant professor at Tufts University School of Medicine and a clinical instructor at Boston University School of Medicine. She has a private practice in Brookline, Massachusetts.


  1. Kucuk, O. “Phase II Randomized Clinical Trial of Lycopene Supplementation Before Radical Prostatectomy,” Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, (August 2001).
  2. Fuhrman, B., Ben-Yaish, L., Attias, J., Hayek, T. and Aviram, M. “Tomato lycopene and ß-carotene inhibit low density lipoprotein oxidation and this effect depends on the lipoprotein vitamin E content,” Nutr. Metab. Cardiovasc. Dis. Vol. 7, pp. 433–43 (1997).
  3. 2003 Heart and Stroke Statistical Update, American Heart Association.
  4. Engelhard, Y., Paran, E. “The Antihypertensive Effect of Natural Antioxidants from Tomato Extract in Grade 1 Hypertensive Patients,” American Journal of Hypertension, (May 2001).
  5. Stahl, W., Heinrich, U., Wiseman, S., Eichler, O., Sies, H. and Tronnier, H. “Dietary tomato paste protects against ultraviolet light-induced erythema in humans.” Journal of Nutrition, Vol. 131, pp. 1449–51 (2001).
  6. Giovannucci, E. “Tomatoes, Tomato-Based Products, Lycopene, and Cancer.” Review of Epidemiologic Literature. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Vol. 91, No. 4, (Feb. 17, 1999).
  7. Levy, J., Sharoni, Y. Unpublished data, the faculty of Health Sciences, Ben Gurion University and Soroka Medical Center, Israel, (2001).
  8. Hulten, K., Van Kappel, A.L., Winkvis, A., Kaaks, R., Hallmans, G., Lenner, P. and Riboli, E. “Carotenoids, alpha-tocopherols and retinol in plasma and breast cancer risk in northern Sweden,” Cancer Causes Control, Vol. 12, pp. 529–37 (2001).
  9. Cramer, D.W., Kuper, H., Harlow, B.L., Titus-Ernstoff, L. “Carotenoids, antioxidants and ovarian cancer risk in pre- and postmenopausal women,” International Journal of Cancer, Vol. 94(1) pp. 128–34, (Oct. 1, 2001).
  10. Jain, M.G., Rohan, T.E., Howe, G.R. and Miller, A.B. “A cohort study of nutritional factors and endometrial cancer,” European Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 16, pp. 899–905 (2000).
  11. Levy, J., Sharoni, Y. Ramban Medical Center, Israel. Preliminary results unpublished.


Cathleen London, MD

Dr. Cathleen London graduated from Brown University in 1988 and received her medical degree from Yale University School of Medicine in 1995. She completed her internship and residency in Family Medicine at Oregon Health Sciences University in 1998.

Outside of patient care, Dr. London consults to the supplement industry, working with raw ingredient manufacturers on the development of innovative treatments. She also frequently appears in the media discussing various health topics.