Of tomatoes, lycopene, and the power of persuasion

The potential of lycopene (a natural product found at relatively high levels in tomatoes) to prevent prostate cancer is still much debated by the scientific community. By contrast, the potential of advertising to influence consumer behavior is not! So if you live in the United Kingdom and you are a possible candidate for prostate cancer (i.e., male and over about 35 years of age), please expect to become a target for a new advertising campaign.

According to an article in today’s Daily Mail, a new Spanish-grown tomato known as the Moruno has twice the level of lycopene compared to “normal” tomatoes (whatever a “normal” tomato is; there are literally hundred and hundreds of varieties). This wonder of cross-pollination and controlled breeding is already being touted as a “super-tomato” that, in addition to its lycopene content (“double the power to fight cancer”), also has “as much vitamin C as a similar-sized orange” (which presumably wouldn’t be that much given the relative sizes of oranges and tomatoes).

No doubt it will only be a matter of time before the Moruno manages to sneak its way onto American supermarket aisles as well … and then Americans can also spend their money on another product that offers no actual evidence whatsoever (as yet) that eating it has any health benefits at all!

Are tomatoes good for you? Well, it is certainly likely that consumption of 0.5 lb (225 g) of tomatoes is better for you on a daily basis than the same weight of (say) butter or bacon … but then if the other food you eat each day includes things like 2 doughnuts, a Big Mac with fries, and a large pizza for dinner, it’s probable that no amount of lycopene is going to make any significant difference!

We trust that the Moruno will be a profitable investment for its developers … We’ll stick with the tomatoes from the garden!

5 Responses

  1. Of course the classic marketing of so called “natural” anti-oxidants must have been the cranberry crusade that saw the sales of cranberry products double and re-double on the basis of some pretty ordinary studies, some of which may well have been funded by interested parties. One of my Yana men wrote a piece I thought was amusing at about this time, which he called Cure du Joure.

    He suggested then that an investment in pomegranate futures might be a good bet and I think he was right. The pomegranate growers must have seen the skyrocketing income for the cranberry people and realized what a bonanza they could mine if the juice from their fruit, so awkward to eat, could gain a similar cachet –- and hasn’t it just?

    A couple of small “warmer” studies have been spotted recently praising mangoes -– so I guess the mango growers will be next on the ground and we’ll be reading the same guff about how a capsule of concentrated mango will save you from any kind of illness you care to think of.

    Just in passing, do you think a study funded by the Arizona Herpetological Processors might find a correlation between the regression of prostate cancer tumours and the application daily of snake oil?

  2. I guess what always gets to me about these “cures de jours” is that we rarely see what the suggested therapeutic intake needs to be, first, for those of us who are trying to find a healthy diet to prevent recurrence of prostate cancer, and second, for those still healthy guys who are trying to prevent it. I’ve read, for instance, that the recommended intake of green tea for maximum anti-oxidant effect is something like 15 cups a day! I’d never leave the bathroom except to prepare the next cup of tea at that rate.

    I’m still suspicious of all this hype, but hoping for a sensible, achievable dietary regimen that can be backed up by solid research.

  3. I have a feeling that 15 cups of green tree a day may have come from one of those studies that was more an experiment designed to fail, where very sick men, dying from prostate cancer after their convdentional treatment had failed, were given intravenous infusions equivalent to 15 cups of green tea daily. Some had adverse reactions; some did not; but none were cured, thus demonstrating the uselessness of green tea.

    Most of the studies I saw when I read such studies were talking about reasonable quantities of infused tea being drunk during the day, but not in any ridiculous quantities.

    But … there’ll always be men who believe that if x is good then 10x will be better — like the man who was turning pink from regularly drinking 2 quarts of tomato juice a day or the man who said that grapefruit juice was dangerous after he had been drinking a gallon a day for some months and had an adverse reaction, possibly enhanced by the fact that he was taking two forms of heart medication prescribed by two different doctors, neither of whom knew about the other.

  4. Thank you. Keep up the great work.


  5. Skepticism is not a disease we need to recover from. It’s something we need to maintain, along with a healthy dose of optimism and a robust sense of humor. Let’s keep communicating about what we’re hearing outside the blizzard of commercial propaganda for every latest thing to come along that will “cure” and “prevent.” Let’s follow the science, not the hype!


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