March is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.  1 man dies every hour of prostate cancer in the UK.  Here’s my 3rd tip for how you can reduce your risk.

What, pizza is suddenly a health food?

Well not exactly, no –  though some research has suggested that higher pizza consumption is associated with lower incidence of prostate cancer.  Unfortunately, the  findings are inconsistent, and if there is a protective effect, it’s probably the concentrated tomato sauce rather than the rest of the pizza that’s responsible. So while there’s nothing wrong with pizza now and again, better advice than making pizza your staple diet would be to eat more fruit and veg that contain lycopene – ripe tomatoes, tomato puree, pink grapefuit, guava and watermelon.  Sorry.

Why does tomato help protect prostate cancer?

Tomatoes are high in a substance called lycopene, which is a natural pigment which gives red fruit and veg their colour, particularly tomatoes.  A high intake of lycopene has been associated with lower risk of prostate cancer.

Lycopene acts as an antioxidant in the body – neutralizing damaging chemicals known as free radicals which are a by-product of the body’s natural metabolic processes.  This may exert some protective effect, by protecting DNA from damage so helping cells to replicate normally.  Lycopene also encourages cancer cells to commit suicide, and reduces the activity of androgen hormones like testosterone which are implicated in prostate cancer.

What’s the evidence

A review of studies looking at trends in populations found that men who eat large amounts of lycopene have rates of prostate cancer 19% lower than those who don’t.  Similarly, in a study of 48,000 American health professionals fond a 23% lower risk in men who ate two portions a week or more of cooked tomato sauce compared to those who only ate it once a month.  Twelve small clinical trials have found that lycopene can reduce PSA levels, which is an indicator for prostate cancer diagnosis and progression.

How much do I need to eat?

2 or more servings a week of cooked tomatoes will probably have some protective effect.

Cooking tomatoes boosts their anti-cancer effects because it helps to release the lycopene from plant cells, and making a tomato sauce (tomatoes, olive oil, basil) is even better, because the oil helps the lycopene to be absorbed.  Very red plum tomatoes have the most lycopene, so tinned tomatoes are a good source.

Also, eating lycopene in foods rather than taking it as supplement seems to have more effect.  This is probably because tomatoes contain other nutrients such as folate, vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E which may also have anti-cancer properties and work synergistically with lycopene.

Try these

  • Add extra tomato puree or sun-dried tomato paste to any dishes containing tomato, such as tomato soup or sauce
  • Pasta with a sauce made from tomatoes, tomato puree, onions, garlic, pitted Kalamata olives (you can use any black olives, but I think these are the nicest) and a few chopped capers, with flaked, tinned tuna stirred in.
  • Chilli made with onions, other veg of your choice (root veg chopped into 1.5 cm cubes work well), cooked red kidney beans (tinned are fine), some lean minced steak (but think of the veg and beans as the main bulk of the meal; a high intake of red meat has been associated with increased prostate cancer risk), tinned tomatoes, extra tomato puree, chilli powder and paprika (about 1 teaspoon of each according to taste).  Start by frying the onions gently in olive oil, add the meat and brown it, stir in the chilli powder and paprika, then add everything else and cook until veg are soft.
  • Warm tomato salsa – chopped tomatoes, spring onions or red onion, garlic, olive oil; fry gently and add juice of half a lemon or lime (good with cold meats, grilled salmon or other fish).
  • Thai red or green curry made with fish or chicken, curry paste plus a selection of veg such as sugar-snap peas, courgette cubes, red/green/yellow peppers and cherry tomatoes; stir in a little creamed coconut at the end of cooking.  You’ll probably find a recipe on the curry paste jar.
  • Choose low sugar, low salt tomato ketchup rather than brown sauce
  • Include pink fruits as part of your 5 a day, such as watermelon, guava and pink grapefruit

If you need a proper recipe for any of these, you’re bound to find one online and if not, let me know and I’ll see if I can make on up for you.

Sources:

The Prostate Care Cookbook by Prof. Margaret Rayman, Kay Dilley and Kay Gibbons.

Eur J Cancer Prev. 2006 Feb;15(1):74-6. Pizza consumption and the risk of breast, ovarian and prostate cancer.  Gallus S, Talamini R, Bosetti C, Negri E, Montella M, Franceschi S, Giacosa A, La Vecchia C.