These juicy red fruits are rich in vitamins A and C as well as the phytochemical lycopene, a cancer-fighting antioxidant. Some studies show that lycopene is especially effective in protecting against prostate cancer. Men, Eat Your Tomatoes Lycopene is what gives watermelon, papaya, pink guava, and red and pink grapefruits their color. But the highest levels of this carotenoid are found in tomato products.

Prostate cancer researchers are particularly interested in tomatoes because lycopene and its related compounds tend to concentrate in tissues of the prostate, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). When tomatoes are cooked, more lycopene becomes available for the body to use. That’s why cooked products such as tomato paste and sauce contain more absorbable lycopene. Enjoy a little olive oil with your pasta and sauce since the body needs a small amount of fat to absorb this plant nutrient.

A Common Problem

The prostate is a small gland, about the size of a walnut, positioned just beneath the bladder. About half of all men over age 50 have an enlarged prostate. Past the age of 80, the number of males with this condition reaches 90 percent. Since the prostate surrounds the urethra, the tube through which urine empties from the bladder, enlargement of this gland may cause difficult, frequent, sudden, or painful urination.

Symptoms (weak urine stream, dribbling, and awakening at night with an urge to urinate) don’t usually indicate anything serious. “Fortunately, the symptoms that most often appear in men over age 50 turn out to be a condition known as benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH,” explains James F. Balch, MD, a board-certified urologist. “The emphasis is on the word benign: Hyperplasia simply means an overgrowth of cells.”

It’s always important to see your healthcare provider immediately for any prostate problems. Your doctor may want to keep a check on PSA levels (prostate-specific antigen levels are a marker for prostate cancer), which requires a simple blood test.

Proof is in The Tomatoes

In a study of men aged 45 to 75 with BPH and elevated PSA levels, researchers found those who ate tomato paste decreased their PSA levels by nearly 11 percent. Patients consumed 50 grams (about 1.7 ounces) of tomato paste daily for 10 weeks. In another study, prostate cancer risk declined with increasing consumption of lycopene, alpha and beta carotenes, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Eating tomatoes, pumpkin, spinach, watermelon, and citrus was shown to reduce risk of prostate cancer, “suggesting that veggies and fruits rich in lycopene and other carotenoids may be protective against prostate cancer,” according to investigators.

At the University of California, Davis, researchers find that tomato juice, paste, puree, and ketchup increase plasma lycopene levels, helping to protect DNA from oxidative damage and reducing PSA levels as well as aggressiveness of prostate tumors. A recent investigation into the growth and survival of prostate cancer cells finds that “lycopene’s antiproliferative effects” warrant its further study “as a potential agent for both the prevention and treatment of prostate cancer.”

Veggie Teamwork

New research reveals that combinations of tomato and broccoli slow prostate tumor growth more effectively than either food alone, prompting authors to recommend increasing “the intake of a variety of plant components.” Study leader John W. Erdman, PhD, explains, “Separately, tomatoes and broccoli appear to have enormous cancer-fighting potential. Together, they maximize the cancer-fighting effect.”