Tomato Sauce Put to the Test for Prostate Cancer

What happened when cancer patients were given three quarters of a cup of canned tomato sauce every day for three weeks?

“Occasionally…positive things happen in the field of cancer prevention science to popular, good-tasting foods.” Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli are wonderful, but they may be “a hard food for the public to swallow.” By contrast, who doesn’t like tomatoes?

As I’ve discussed previously, studies using high-dose supplements of lycopene, the antioxidant red pigment in tomatoes thought to be the active anti-cancer ingredient, failed over and over again to prevent or treat cancer. In fact, it may even end up promoting cancer, since lycopene may actually act as a pro-oxidant at the high levels one can get with supplements. But, lycopene in supplement form doesn’t appear to be effective at lower doses either. “There is a strong inverse [protective] correlation between the intake of fruit and vegetables and the incidence of certain cancers.” However, when we supplement with only a single compound isolated in pill form, we may upset the healthy, natural balance of antioxidants.

It does seem to be quite the human hubris to think we can reproduce the beneficial effects of consuming entire fruits and vegetables by giving supplements of a single phytochemical, which would normally interact with thousands of other compounds in the natural matrix Mother Nature intended. “In addition to lycopene, [other] known carotenoids in tomatoes and tomato-based products include β-carotene, γ-carotene, ζ-carotene, phytofluene, and phytoene, all of which…have been found to accumulate in human prostate tissue.” There are also numerous non-carotenoid compounds in tomatoes that may have anti-cancer activity, not to mention all of the compounds we have yet to even characterize.

It’s not about finding the one magic bullet, though. As one study title reads, “The anti-cancer effects of carotenoids and other phytonutrients resides in their combined activity.” For example, as you can see at 1:52 in my video Tomato Sauce vs. Prostate Cancer, at the low concentrations of the tomato compounds phytoene, phytofluene, and lycopene that are found in most people who eat normal amounts of tomatoes, there’s very little effect on cancer cell growth in vitro when used separately. But, when they are combined together, a non-effective dose of phytoene and phytofluene plus a non-effective dose of lycopene somehow become effective, significantly suppressing prostate cancer cell growth. The same synergy can be seen across foods. Curcumin, the yellow pigment in turmeric and curry powder, tomato extracts, and the vitamin E found in nuts and seeds do little individually to inhibit pro-growth signaling of prostate cancer cells—less than 10 percent—but all three together suppress growth signaling about 70 percent. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

So, instead of giving cancer patients lycopene pills, what if we give them some tomato sauce? Researchers gave 32 patients with localized prostate cancer three quarters of a cup of canned tomato sauce every day for three weeks before their scheduled radical prostatectomy. In their bloodstream, PSA levels dropped by 17.5 percent. PSA, prostate-specific antigen, is a protein produced by prostate gland cells, and elevated blood PSA levels are routinely used to monitor the success of cancer treatment. “It was surprising to find that the 3-week, tomato sauce-based dietary intervention” could decrease PSA concentrations in men with prostate cancer. As well, free radical damage of the DNA in their white blood cells dropped by 21 percent. Imagine how antioxidant-poor their diet must have been beforehand if less than one cup of tomato sauce a day could reduce DNA damage by more than a fifth! 

What did they find in their prostates, though? Human prostate tissue is thought to be “particularly vulnerable to oxidative DNA damage by free radicals, which are thought to play a critical role in all stages of carcinogenesis,” that is, of cancer formation. This may be for a number of reasons, including fewer DNA repair enzymes. Well, the researchers had tissue samples taken from biopsies before the tomato sauce regimen started, as well as tissue samples from surgeries after three weeks of tomato sauce, and resected tissues from tomato sauce-supplemented patients had 28 percent less free radical damage than expected. I show a graph of the DNA damage in the prostate before the tomato sauce and after just 20 days of sauce at 4:18 in my video. You can see the drop yourself. What’s interesting is there was no association between the level of lycopene in the prostate and the protective effects. Tomatoes contain a whole bunch of things, some of which may be even more powerful than lycopene.

Regardless, in contrast to the lycopene supplements alone, the whole food intervention seemed to help. To see if lycopene plays any role at all, one would have to test a lycopene-free tomato—in other words, a yellow tomato. So, what if you compared red tomatoes to yellow tomatoes, which have all the non-lycopene tomato compounds, to straight lycopene in a pill? Researchers fed people red tomato paste, yellow tomato paste, lycopene pills, or placebo pills, and then dripped their blood onto prostate cancer cells growing in a petri dish. As you can see at 5:18 in my video, the red tomato serum—the blood from those who ate red tomato paste—significantly decreased the prostate cancer cell’s expression of a growth-promoting gene called cyclin D1, compared to those not eating anything. This downregulation of the gene by the red tomato consumption “may contribute to lower prostate cancer risk by limiting cell proliferation.” The red tomato seemed to work better than the yellow tomato, so maybe the lycopene helped—but not in pill form. This gene “was not regulated” by the lycopene pill serum, indicating that it may be something else. And, lycopene alone significantly upregulated procarcinogenic genes. “Therefore, it can be stated that tomato consumption may be preferable to pure lycopene…”

So, what’s the best way? A spouse wrote to the editor of the Harvard Men’s Health Watch, saying their husband wants to have pizza for his prostate but they don’t think it’s a healthy food. The doctor replied with the suggestion of a “cheese-free pizza (with broccoli instead of pepperoni, please)” or just some “tomato juice.”

Why eat tomato sauce when you can just take lycopene supplements? See my video Lycopene Supplements vs. Prostate Cancer.

Are there any foods we should avoid? Check out, for example, Prostate Cancer Survival: The A/V Ratio and How Our Gut Bacteria Can Use Eggs to Accelerate Cancer.


We may be able to prevent cancer and even reverse the progression of cancer with diet. See: 

It isn’t always easy to get guys to change, though. See Changing a Man’s Diet After a Prostate Cancer Diagnosis.

In health, 

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live presentations:

Amla (dried Indian gooseberry) vs. Lipitor for Lowering Cholesterol

Extracts of amla (Indian gooseberry) were pitted head-to-head against cholesterol-lowering statin drugs and the blood thinners aspirin and Plavix.

Indian gooseberries, otherwise known as amla, have been touted as everything from a cancer fighter to a hair tonic to a refrigerant. (A refrigerant? Like Freon?) Amla’s even been labeled a snake venom detoxifier—but based on what kind of research? I discuss this in my video Flashback Friday: Amla vs. Drugs for Cholesterol, Inflammation, & Blood-Thinning.

Yes, dietary intake of both turmeric and amla “increases life span”—of fruit flies. Do we really care about the effect of amla on the lifespan or the “sexual behavior,” for that matter, of fruit flies? How do you even study the sexual behavior of fruit flies? Why, just introduce “a virgin female and bachelor male…into an Elens-Wattiaux mating chamber,” don’t you know? (Can you imagine having an insect mating chamber named after you? And it looks like there were two people fighting over naming rights so they had to go with both!) 

Okay, so the virgin female and bachelor male are in the chamber. Now it’s just a matter of getting out a stopwatch. As you can see at 1:06 in my video Amla vs. Drugs for Cholesterol, Inflammation, and Blood-Thinning, 20 minutes is the average “copulation duration,” but it was almost a half-hour on amla. What’s more, amla dropped the “mating latency,” the time from when they were introduced to each other in the chamber to when they started getting busy, from ten down to seven seconds. Seconds? They don’t mess around! Well, actually, they do mess around—and quite rapidly. 

And, on amla, they lay more eggs and more of those eggs hatch into larva. But, just as you probably don’t think about flies when you hear amla is “the best medicine to increase the life span,” you’re probably not thinking more maggots when you read that amla may have a “potent aphrodisiac effect.”

Now, there was a study, as I show at 1:56 in my video, that found extraordinary improvements in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in actual humans, but that was compared to placebo. What about compared to simvastatin, a leading cholesterol-lowering drug sold as Zocor? Treatment with the drug “produced significant reduction” in cholesterol, as one would expect, but so did the amla. In fact, you could hardly tell which was which. There was only about a 10 to 15 percent drop in total and LDL cholesterol, but the amla dose in this study was only 500 milligrams, which is about a tenth of a teaspoon, and it wasn’t just the powdered fruit, but the powdered juice of the fruit, which may have made a difference.

How about versus Lipitor, the cholesterol-lowering drug known as atorvastatin? As I show at 2:50 in my video, no effects of taking placebos were seen, but there were significant improvements for the drug and also for two different doses of amla, but again only a drop of about 15 percent or so. Did the researchers use the juice again? No. Even worse, they used a patented extract of amla, so instead of costing 5 cents a day, it was 50 cents a day and didn’t even seem to work as well. Though, because of this proprietary product, at least someone is willing to pony up the funds to do the research.

It’s like the cancer story. For Indian gooseberries “to become relevant clinically,” researchers are praying for “patentable derivatives” to be synthesized. “Without the possibility of patents, the pharmaceutical industry will undoubtedly not invest” in the research. Their shareholders wouldn’t let them. It’s patents over patients. But, without that research, how can we ever prove its worth—or worthlessness, for that matter? So, interest by the drug and supplement industries in patenting natural food product remedies is a double-edged sword. Without it, there would never have been the study showing not only benefits for cholesterol but also for arterial function, as you can see at 4:04 in my video, reducing artery stiffness in the two amla extract groups and the drug group, but not the placebo, as well as a dramatic drop in inflammation, with C-reactive protein levels cut in half. So, amla—or at least amla extracts—“may be a good therapeutic alternative to statins in diabetic patients with endothelial [artery] dysfunction because it has the beneficial effects of the statins but without the well known adverse effects” of the drugs, including muscle damage and liver dysfunction.

The amla extract was also compared to the blood-thinning drugs aspirin and Plavix, which are often prescribed after heart attacks, and achieved about three quarters of the same platelet aggregation inhibiting effect as the drugs, significantly increasing bleeding and clotting time—that is, the time it takes you to stop dripping after getting poked with a needle. This is actually a good thing if you have a stent or something you don’t want to clog up, but it didn’t thin the blood outside the normal range, so it may not unduly raise the risk of major bleeding.

Amla extract also appears to decrease the effects of stress on the heart. Researchers had people plunge their hands into ice water and keep them there until the pain became “unbearable,” which causes your arteries to constrict and your blood pressure to go up—but not as much if you’re taking an amla extract. Good to know for your next ice bucket challenge. 

I profile the study that used the whole fruit in my video The Best Food for High Cholesterol. 


For more on amla, see: 

The double-edged sword of patenting natural substances comes up over and over. See, for example, Plants as Intellectual Property: Patently Wrong?.

With a healthier diet, neither drugs nor supplements may be necessary:

For all of my videos on the latest research on cholesterol, visit our Cholesterol topic page.

In health, 

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live presentations:

Benefits of Turmeric for Arsenic Exposure

What happened when turmeric curcumin was put to the test to see if it could reverse DNA damage caused by arsenic exposure?

Arsenic is a carcinogenic heavy metal, and the major mechanism of arsenic-related damage appears to be oxidative stress. It’s the arsenic-induced accumulation of free radicals that can kill off cells and damage our DNA, and the double whammy is that it may also disrupt our body’s ability to repair our DNA once it’s damaged. Well, if the damage is oxidation, what about eating antioxidant-rich foods, such as the spice turmeric, which contains an antioxidant pigment known as curcumin. I examine this in my video Benefits of Turmeric for Arsenic Exposure.

As anyone familiar with my videos can attest, “numerous clinical studies have suggested that curcumin has therapeutic efficacy against a variety of human diseases,” including cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and inflammatory bowel, joint, lung, skin, and eye diseases.

In terms of protection against heavy metals, studies suggest turmeric may help scavenge free radicals, as well as chelate, or bind up, heavy metals. But it’s all just theory, until you put it to the test. Until recently, all we had was research studying whether curcumin can protect against heavy metal-induced oxidation in puréed rat brains, for example. Why can’t you just give some turmeric to people? It’s not like there aren’t millions of people out there who’ve been exposed to arsenic and could use some help.

Indeed, in what became the greatest chemical disaster in human history, “tube-wells” were installed in Bangladesh to provide clean water. UNICEF meant well—too bad they didn’t test the water for arsenic. People started showing up with lesions on their feet, as you can see at 1:52 in my video, and as many as one in ten people in some parts of the country will now go on to die from cancers caused by the arsenic exposure. This disaster allowed the medical community to document all sorts of “interesting” cancers, but why not give them something that may help, like turmeric curcumin?

Researchers did just that. After they determined the extent of DNA damage in study subjects, half were randomly selected and prescribed curcumin capsules blended with a little black pepper compound, while the other half were given a placebo. As you can see at 2:25 in my video, before the study started, the amount of DNA damage found in the curcumin and placebo groups of arsenic-exposed individuals was higher than the DNA damage found in a control group of individuals not exposed to arsenic, which remained the same throughout the study. The researchers wanted to establish a baseline in the arsenic-exposed groups, so they waited for three months before starting the study. And, indeed, the DNA damage remained stable during that time. Then, for three months, they proceeded to give the groups the curcumin or the placebo. The placebo didn’t do much, but within the first month, the researchers could see the curcumin working. And, by the third month, the DNA damage in the curcumin-treated arsenic group was no worse than in those who hadn’t been exposed to arsenic at all. Amazing! “The comparison of the populations receiving curcumin and placebo established that curcumin had an effective role in regression of DNA damage and as an excellent antioxidant agent,” and what they found subsequently is that the curcumin undid the arsenic crippling of our DNA repair enzymes—both helping to prevent the damage and facilitating its repair. “Thus, curcumin intervention may be a useful modality for the prevention of arsenic-induced carcinogenesis [cancer development].”

Of course, you have to make sure the turmeric itself isn’t contaminated with heavy metals. Nearly a quarter of spices purchased in Boston had lead in them, and it’s not just a matter of buying U.S. versus foreign brands, as the difference in lead levels was not found to be statistically significant, as you can see at 3:52 in my video.

What about just eating antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables? The reason we care about DNA damage is that we care about cancer. What if you measured the beta-carotene levels in people exposed to arsenic who went on to develop cancer, compared to those who got exposed to the same amount of arsenic but didn’t get cancer? Beta-carotene is like a proxy for healthy fruit and vegetable intake. The way you get high levels in your blood is by eating lots of healthy foods, like greens and sweet potatoes. Compared to those with low levels of beta-carotene in their blood, those with high levels had 99 percent lower odds of getting arsenic-induced cancer, as you can see at 4:34 in my video. So, if you’re going to eat rice, why not have some rice with some sweet potatoes on top?


What’s the rice connection? I produced a 13-part series on arsenic in rice. Air-pop some popcorn, sit back, and enjoy:

What else can turmeric do? Glad you asked!

Who Shouldn’t Consume Curcumin or Turmeric? Watch the video to find out!

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live presentations: