April 29, 2008

Tomatoes May Fight Both Sunburns and Wrinkles

British researchers report that tomatoes may protect skin from harmful UV rays that can lead to premature ageing and skin cancer. The study found consuming just five tablespoons of tomato paste per day was enough to provide the benefit, and suggests that lycopene is the source of the protection.

The study, conducted by researchers at the universities of Manchester and Newcastle, was presented at the British Society for Investigative Dermatology.

Previous research has linked lycopene, a component in tomatoes found at its highest concentration when the vegetable is cooked,  with a reduction in the risk of prostate cancer.   

In the current study, researchers had 10 volunteers consume approximately 55 grams of standard tomato paste and 10 grams of olive oil each day.   A separate group of 10 participants consumed only the olive oil.

Three months later, samples from the group who consumed the tomato paste showed a 33 percent greater protection against sunburn and much higher levels of precollagen, a molecule in the skin that provides structure and firmness.

"The tomato diet boosted the level of procollagen in the skin significantly. These increasing levels suggest potential reversal of the skin ageing process," Professor Lesley Rhodes, a dermatologist at the University of Manchester, told BBC News.

"These weren't huge amounts of tomato we were feeding the group. It was the sort of quantity you would easily manage if you were eating a lot of tomato-based meals."

However, some warned that the study was small and that tomatoes should be seen as a "helpful addition" rather than an alternative to sunscreen.

"While the protection offered by lycopene is low, this research suggests that a diet containing high levels of antioxidant rich tomatoes could provide an extra tool in sun protection," Dr Colin Holden of the British Association of Dermatologists told BBC News.

The researchers are now considering new studies on the skin benefits of lycopene.


On the Net:

British Society for Investigative Dermatology

British Association of Dermatologists