The tomato is technically a fruit, although some consider it a vegetable. It can be consumed raw, in sauces and in drinks. Tomatoes contain high levels of antioxidants, particularly lycopene, which has been linked to cancer prevention. The lycopene found in the tomato has also been proven to protect skin against harmful UV rays. Additional health benefits of the tomato include inflammation prevention and maintenance of healthy skin, hair and teeth.
The medicinal parts are the fresh leaves, the fresh herb collected during the flowering season, or the whole plant.
Flower and Fruit
The flowers are in lateral, cymelike coils. The tips of the calyx are linear-lanceolate. The corolla is yellow, as long as the calyx, and has a very short tube. It is divided into pointed, lanceolate lobes. The stamens are fused to the tube. The stigma is greenish and capitular. The fruit is a large, juicy, smooth, round to ovoid berry with a short, obtuse tip. It is scarlet, occasionally yellow or whitish with a diameter of 2 to 10 cm. The seeds are reniform, flattened, whitish-gray-yellow, and villous-tomentose.
Leaves, Stem, and Root
The Tomato plant is an annual with a fusiform, fibrous root. The stem grows to 120 cm, and is leafy and heavily branched, with glandular hairs. The leaves are broad-petiolate, odd-pinnate, petiolate, ovate-lanceolate, pinnatifid, dentate, and slightly involute leaflets. The leaves have a gray-green underside.
The plant probably originated in southern or Central America; today it is only cultivated.
Tomato tincture is the homeopathic mother tincture of the whole plant Lycopersicon esculentum.
Actions & Pharmacology
Steroid alkaloid glycosides: chief alkaloid alpha-tomatine
Some studies are showing a relationship between high Tomato consumption and lower levels of cancer. While a number of epidemiological studies demonstrated some benefits for cancer treatment with lycopene, the carotenoid that is plentiful in Tomatoes and certain other fruits and vegetables, other studies showed no effect. The majority of evidence, however, supports the use of lycopene in cancer prevention. Lycopene levels have been shown to be inversely proportional to cancers of the prostate, cervix, pancreas, and stomach.
There is a fair amount of epidemiologic evidence to document a possible correlation between lycopene ingestion and protection from cardiovascular disease. Similarly, there is fair documentation to indicate a possible effectiveness of lycopene in reducing cholesterol in adults and animals. Lycopene may have anticholesterol effects due to inhibition of HMG CoA reductase activity and antineoplastic activity due to its inhibition of DNA synthesis, antioxidant effects, modulation of intercellular communication, and induction of cell differentiation. Lycopene has the highest singlet oxygen-quenching capacity in vitro (antioxidant).
The content of lycopene, a common carotenoid found in tomatoes as well as other fruits (apricot, cranberry, eggplant, grape, papaya, peach, guava, watermelon) varies by the color of the tomato. The very red varieties having as much as 50 mg/100 g, and the yellow varieties as little as 5 mg/100 g (Clinton, 1998).
Seventy-two to 92% of lycopene in the tomato is associated with the water insoluble fraction and the skin of the fruit. In one test, the tomato pulp had 42.3 mg/100 g of tomato, while the water-soluble portion contained only 4 mg/100 g. Five different strains were used. The concentrations of lycopene in the tomato pulp ranged from 6.46 to 10.19 mg/100 g. The concentration in the insoluble fraction ranged from 35.4 to 53.56 mg/100 g and in the soluble fraction from 0.0074 to 0.034 mg/100 g. When a commercial sample of pulp was tested the lycopene concentration was 12.46 mg/100 g (Sharma & LeMaguer, 1996).
Lycopene is susceptible to oxidation and elevated temperature, exposure to light, oxygen, pH extremes, and active surfaces will degrade it. Lycopene also undergoes cis-trans isomerization the cis form is less thermo-stable. Twenty percent to 57% of lycopene has been lost in processing tomato fruit pulp according to some studies, but others have shown lycopene to be relatively heat stable. Lycopene is more stable in the tomato or fruit than it is in isolated form (Nguyen & Schwartz, 1999). Store at room temperature, away from heat, moisture, and direct light.
Tomato's tomatin content has been shown to be antibacterial. In animal experiments, a lowering of blood pressure was observed after IV administration of tomatin hydrochloride. Lectin isolated from the fruit is said to have an effect on cell division and DANN synthesis in human leukocyte cultures.
In one murine study, reduced atherosclerosis risk was estimated due to reduced lipid oxidation in animals treated with a Tomato supplement. Male ICR mice were fed a control diet for 4 months or an atherogenic diet for the same time period. Blood from the mice was drawn every 2 months and analyzed for lipid oxidation. The atherogenic diet produced a reduction in body weight for both groups 2 and 3 when compared to controls. The reduction was significant (p<0.05) after 2 months and continued until the end of the experiment. There were no growth differences between groups 2 and 3. Serum cholesterol increased significantly during the study in both groups 2 and 3. The increase in thiobarbituric acid-reactive substances (TBARS) (oxidation) in the Tomato group was only slightly greater than that of the control group (Suganuma & Inakuma, 1999).
When tested in the J-774A cell line, lycopene was shown to augment the activity of LDL receptors, similar to the anticholesterol drug fluvastatin. The mechanism was thought to be inhibition of macrophage 3-hydroxy-3-methyl glutaryl coenzyme A (HMG CoA) reductase. This enzyme is used in the rate-limiting step of cholesterol synthesis (Fuhrman et al, 1997).
The susceptibility of low-density lipoproteins to oxidation was not changed by increased lycopene plasma concentrations caused by supplementation with Tomato juice. Fifteen renal transplant patients were given either a synthetic orange drink or Tomato juice for 4 weeks in a crossover study. Plasma lycopene levels increased significantly (p<0.015). LDL oxidation was measured by fluorescent lipid oxidation products (FLOP) and by thiobarbituric acid reacting substances (TBARS) in the serum. The lag time to LDL oxidation was also measured. None of the measures showed decreased LDL oxidation (Sutherland et al, 1999).
Tomato juice containing lycopene, but not an equal amount of lycopene alone, protected against development of induced colon cancer. Seven-week-old female F344/NSlc rats were given an intrarectal dose of 2 or 4 mg of N-methylnitrosourea (NMN) 3 times a week for 3 weeks to induce cancer. The animals were allowed to drink unlimited amounts of either water (controls), water containing 17 ppm lycopene (LY group), diluted Tomato juice containing the same 17 ppm lycopene (TJ), or 3.4 ppm lycopene as Tomato juice (LTJ). At 35 weeks after treatment with the 2 mg NMN dose there was a significantly lower incidence (compared to controls (54%)) in the TJ group (21%), but not in the LY group (33%). At the higher NMN dose, there was also a significant difference between the TJ group (40%) and the controls (84%) or the LTJ groups (72%). When the colon mucosa of the rats was examined, a significant amount of lycopene was found in TJ group but not the LTJ group (Narisawa et al, 1998). In another study, lycopene in combination with the drug piroxicam, but not lycopene alone, or lycopene with beta-carotene, produced a cancer preventative effect against induced urinary bladder cancers in rats (Okajima et al, 1997).
The serum level of lycopene was reduced when exposed to the oxidative stress of a meal or smoking. The lipid peroxidation expressed as thiobarbituric acid reactive substances (TBARS) was taken in 20 healthy human subjects before and after a meal. Serum lycopene levels between smokers and non- smokers were not statistically different but after smoking three cigarettes, serum lycopene levels dropped 40%, and TBARS increased (increased lipid peroxidation) 40%. After a meal lycopene levels dropped 25% when compared to fasting levels. Eating a meal and smoking, both of which produce oxidative stress, reduced lycopene levels (Rao & Agarwal, 1998).
The antiproliferative effect of lycopene is secondary to its inhibition of DNA synthesis (Levy et al, 1995). Much of its activity is attributed to its antioxidant properties (Clinton, 1998). Modulation of intercellular communication, which has been demonstrated in cell cultures, may be another mechanism for the antiproliferative effect of lycopene (Stahl et al, 2000; Krutovskikh et al, 1997). Another postulated mechanism for its antiproliferative effect is that it can induce differentiation of cancer cells. This induction of differentiation has been observed in leukemic cell cultures exposed to a combination of both lycopene and 1,25 dihydroxyvitamin D3 (Amir et al, 1999).
When tested for antioxidant properties in a multilamellar liposome system, lycopene was found to have the greatest antioxidant activity of the carotenoids. The ranking (greatest to least) was lycopene, alpha-tocopherol, alpha carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, zeaxanthin, beta-carotene, and lutein (Stahl et al, 1998).
Lycopene was not associated with a reduced risk of nuclear cataracts in the aged. Lycopene has been shown to have a protective antioxidant effect on cataracts in experimental animals. A nuclear opacity test was done using lens photographs taken in 1988 to 1990 and compared to photographs taken in 1993 to 1995. Nonfasting concentrations of various carotenoids and tocopherols were determined from serum obtained at baseline. A comparison was made between those that developed cataracts and those that did not. No statistically significant relationship was found with lycopene (Lyle et al, 1999).
Lymphocyte oxidative DNA damage was lessened in 10 healthy women who ate a lycopene-containing Tomato puree. The study had a crossover design, with one group receiving a diet containing 16.5 mg of lycopene while the other had a Tomato-free diet for 21 days. Plasma lycopene concentrations and primary resistance to oxidative stress was analyzed before and after each diet. Oxidative stress was determined by single-cell gel electrophoresis. Lycopene levels increased by 0.5 mcmol/liter during the supplementation trial while during the Tomato-free diet lycopene dropped 0.2 mcmol/L (p<0.01). Lymphocyte DNA damage after ex vivo treatment with hydrogen peroxide decreased by 33% and 42% in the two groups of subjects (Riso et al, 1999).
Lycopene may play a role in preventing oxidative damage in skin produced by exposure to ultraviolet light. The volar forearm of 16 healthy Caucasian women was exposed to 3x their minimal erythema dose (determined previously) of ultraviolet light. This produced a 31% to 46% reduction in skin concentrations of lycopene. This same dose of light did not appreciably affect the concentration of skin beta-carotene, another carotenoid. Three days after the ultraviolet exposure a 6-mm skin biopsy was obtained and levels of lycopene and beta-carotene determined (Ribaya-Mercado et al, 1995).
A cohort epidemiological study of 88 Finish patients evaluated the relative risk (RR) of developing breast cancer. The comparison was between those in the third tertile (highest) versus those in the first tertile of serum lycopene levels. The RR was approximately 1. The cases were adjusted for age, body mass, parity, occupation, smoking status, and region of the country (Jarvinen et al, 1997).
A case-control study of 46 American patients evaluated the relative risk (RR) of developing breast cancer. The comparison was between those with higher than the mean breast adipose tissue levels of lycopene versus those with lower than the mean. The RR was 0.32 with a 95% confidence interval of 0.11 to 0.94. The cases were adjusted for age, smoking status, and menopause status (Zhang et al, 1997).
A cohort epidemiological study of 105 American patients evaluated the relative risk (RR) of developing breast cancer. The comparison was between those with a serum lycopene level greater than 0.51 mcmol/liter and those with a serum level 22 mcmol/liter. The RR was 0.5 with a 95% confidence interval of 0.2 to 1.2 and a p value of 0.02. The cases were adjusted for age, serum cholesterol level, body mass, breast disease, and smoking status (Dorgan et al, 1998).
An epidemiological study from 10 European countries showed a correlation between lycopene lipid levels and reduced risk of myocardial infarction. A multicenter, case-control study was performed evaluating the content of lycopene in buttock tissue taken after myocardial infarction. Analyses using conditional logistic regression models controlling for age, body mass index, socioeconomic status, smoking, hypertension, and maternal and paternal history of disease showed lycopene to be protective with an odds ratio of 0.52 for the contrast of the 10th and 90th percentiles (95% confidence interval 0.33-0.82, p<0.005). The median lycopene adipose tissue concentration for controls was 0.27 mg/g of fatty acid. The effect of lycopene was strongest in nonsmokers. The protective effect of lycopene increased at each increasing level of polyunsaturated fat and was significant in individuals whose fat tissue contained more than 16.1% polyunsaturates. Levels of lycopene in the fatty tissue provide a better measure of long-term lycopene intake than does serum levels or dietary records (Kohlmeier et al, 1997).
A trend toward decreased lycopene levels was found in a study of Latin American women with cervical cancer. Newly diagnosed cases of cervical cancer from Latin America were included in the study. Patients were under 70 years of age. Lycopene was determined in plasma using high performance liquid chromatography. Lycopene values trended toward lower values with more advanced disease. Early-stage cases had levels not very different from controls. There were 696 cervical cancer patients in the study and 1,217 controls. The age adjusted mean value of lycopene in controls was 10.9 mcg/dL in the cervical cancer patients it was 9.9 mcg/dL. When lycopene levels were determined for each stage of the cancer, plasma values were 12.5 mcg/dL for stage one, 10.4 mcg/dL for stage 2, 8.4 mcg/dL for stage 3, and 8.3 mcg/dL for stage 4 (Potischman et al, 1994).
A case-control epidemiological study of 629 Italian rectal cancer subjects and 955 colon cancer patients compared the RR of developing colorectal cancer between the fourth and first quartile of Tomato eaters. The RR for the colon cancer patients was 0.39 (95% confidence interval of 0.31 to 0.49) and for the rectal cancer patients was 0.42 (confidence interval of 0.32 to 0.55). The cases were adjusted for sex, study center where the case occurred, educational level, alcohol usage, smoking status, caloric intake, and age (Franceschi et al, 1997).
A case-control epidemiological study of 453 colon cancer and 365 rectal cancer patients compared the relative risk (RR) of developing colorectal cancer between the 2 groups. One group reported eating any amount of Tomatoes each week compared to those that ate none. The RR for the colon cancer group was 1.15 with a p for trend equal to 0.31. The RR for the rectal cancer patients groups was 1.03 with a p=0.84. The same cases were evaluated again using Tomato paste instead of Tomatoes as the criteria. The RR for the colon cancer group was 0.78 (p=0.12) and for the rectal cancer group the RR was 0.93 (p=0.93). The cases were adjusted for sex, region, and age (Tuyns et al, 1988).
A case-control epidemiological study of 217 male and 127 female patients evaluated the RR of developing esophageal cancer. The comparison was between those who ate one or more Tomatoes per day (minimum of 7/week) and those that ate one or less than 1 per month. The RR for the males was 0.61 with a 95% confidence interval of 0.43 to 0.86. The RR for the females was 1.08 with a 95% confidence interval of 0.69 to 1.67. The cases were adjusted for age and region of Iran (Cook-Mozaffari et al, 1989).
A case-control epidemiological study of 207 American male patients evaluated the RR of developing esophageal cancer. The comparison was between those who had “high” intake of Tomatoes versus those with “low” intake. The RR was 0.70 with a 95% confidence interval of 0.4 to 1.4. The cases were adjusted for age, alcohol intake, and smoking status (Brown et al, 1988).
No significant change in lipids was noted when supplementation with 5 mg of lycopene daily was used by 22 female adults for 6 weeks. Lycopene supplementation did not affect lipid status. The antioxidant activity of the subject's plasma was not altered (Bohm & Bitsch, 1999).
A 14% reduction in plasma LDL cholesterol concentrations was noted when 6 males were given Tomato lycopene supplementation of 60 mg daily for 3 months (Fuhrman et al, 1997).
Oxidation of LDL cholesterol was significantly reduced by the administration of lycopene in the diet of 19 healthy subjects not taking other drugs. Administration of dietary lycopene increased serum lycopene by at least twofold. There was no change in the levels of LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, or total cholesterol in these subjects. This was a crossover design study. Lycopene was administered in the diet as Tomato juice, spaghetti sauce, and Tomato oleoresin. The study was randomized and crossover in design. There were four test groups in the study. Group 1 received no lycopene, group 2 received 39.2 mg of lycopene as spaghetti sauce, group 3 received 50.4 mg of lycopene as Tomato juice, and group 4 received 75 mg of lycopene as a 6% lycopene Tomato oleoresin. Although the differences in serum lycopene levels were significant (p<0.05) between the placebo and each of the lycopene supplements, there was no significant difference between the various supplements, despite the varied amounts of lycopene administered. Oxidation of DNA and protein was measured using protein thiols and 8-oxodeoxyguanosine contents of lymphocyte DNA. A tendency toward lower oxidation in these groups was noted but the results were not statistically significant (Agarwal & Rao, 1998; Rao & Agarwal, 1998a).
A case-control, epidemiologic study of non-small cell lung carcinoma showed a relative risk of 0.37 (p=0.01) between a group that had plasma lycopene levels in the third tertile when compared to those in the first tertile. When the data was analyzed for African Americans, the relative risk was 0.12 (p=0.001). Ninety-three cases in the United States were reviewed. The cases were adjusted for age, sex, and race (Li et al, 1997).
A case-controlled epidemiological study of 103 cases from Spain compared the risk of developing lung or pleural cancer between the third (highest) and first (lowest) tertile of Tomato eaters. The RR was 0.45 with a p for trend of 0.026 and a 95% confidence interval of 0.22 to 0.91. Cases were adjusted for age, smoking, and the total number of pack years smoked (Agudo et al, 1997).
In another study measuring relative risk, when the fifth quintile of patients with high serum lycopene were compared to the first quintile (lowest serum levels), there was no noticeable benefit from lycopene. The RR for developing lung or pleural cancer for this group was 1.01 and the p value for the trend was 0.97. This was a cohort study of 258 Maryland patients matched for age, race, sex, date of blood donation, and smoking status (Comstock, 1997).
In a case-control epidemiological study of mesothelioma, Tomato or Tomato juice consumption of greater than 16 “doses” per month was compared to no doses. The RR for the Tomato group was 0.6 with a 95% confidence interval of 0.2 to 1.9. Ninety-four cases were examined and adjusted for age, religion, occupation, and educational level (Muscat & Huncharek, 1996).
A case-control epidemiological study of 266 male and 36 female Italian patients evaluated the RR of developing oral or pharyngeal cancer. The comparison was between the third and first tertile of Tomato eaters. The RR was 0.5 with a p for trend of less than 0.01. The cases were adjusted for sex, age, occupation, alcohol intake, smoking status, and other foods with significant effects (Franceschi et al, 1991).
A case-control epidemiological study of 404 Chinese patients evaluated the RR of developing oral cancer. The comparison was between those who ate one or more Tomatoes per day (minimum of 7/week) and those that ate less than 3 per week. The RR was 0.49 with a 95% confidence interval of 0.26 to 0.94. The cases were adjusted for sex, age, body mass, dentition, educational level, alcohol intake, smoking status, and energy (Zheng et al, 1993).
A cohort epidemiological study of 35 American patients evaluated the RR of developing ovarian cancer. The comparison was between those with a serum lycopene level greater than 35.2 mcg/dL and those with a serum level 21.9 mcg/dL. The RR was 1.36 with a 95% confidence interval of 0.4 to 4.3 (p=0.59). The cases were adjusted for age, menstrual status, and the time since the subjects had last eaten (Helzlsourer et al, 1996).
A case-control epidemiological study of 164 European patients evaluated the RR of developing pancreatic cancer. The comparison was between those in the fifth quintile of those who ate Tomatoes versus those in the first quintile. The RR was 0.23 (p<0.05). The cases were adjusted for sex, age, smoking status, and energy (Bueno de Mesquita et al, 1989).
Lycopene was the only carotenoid in the plasma that was associated with reduced risk of prostate cancer. Subjects in the study included 578 men who developed prostate cancer over a 13-year period and a set of 1,294 matched controls (age, marital status, and smoking). A significantly lower mean lycopene level was found in the prostate cancer patients than in the controls, with a p value for the trend of 0.04. The odds ratio for all prostate cancers declined slightly with increasing quintile of plasma lycopene with a trend p value of 0.12. Prostate cancer was reduced in each lycopene quintile relative to men with low lycopene and placebo. Lycopene plasma levels were strongly related to lowered prostate cancer risk in aggressive cancers, with a p=0.006 (Gann et al, 1999).
An epidemiological study of members of a health professional's follow-up study showed that lycopene ingestion was associated with a decreased risk of cancer. A statistically significant (p=0.04) trend toward reduced prostate cancer risk was associated with self-reported intake of various fruits and vegetables containing lycopene. The differences were between the first and fifth quintiles of the study group. This same group was studied to determine if there was a significant difference in the risk of getting cancer depending on the food eaten. There was a statistically significant difference for Tomato sauce, Tomatoes, and pizza but not Tomato juice (p=0.01, 0.3, 0.05, and 0.67, respectively. The categories included in the trend were: no servings, 1 to 3 servings a month, 1 serving a week, 2 to 4 servings per week, and greater than 5 servings per week. Other carotenoids were also examined; no statistically significant differences were found for these agents (Giovannucci & Clinton, 1998).
Indications & Usage
With studies showing a relationship between high tomato consumption and lower levels of cancer, complementary and alternative medicine practitioners have suggested increasing consumption of tomato and other fruits and vegetables high in lycopene to their patients. Lycopene may help support prostate function and is often used as an adjunctive therapy in treating prostate cancer. Many combination products for support of the prostate include lycopene and other nutrients such as zinc and saw palmetto.
In folk medicine, Tomato is used externally for sore eyes (extract) and inflammations of the mouth and throat (decoction).
Tomato is used for “flu” infections (tea), and for flatulence, atonic dyspepsia, and anorexia.
Lycopersicon esculentum is used to treat rheumatic conditions, colds, chills and digestive disorders.
Precautions & Adverse Reactions
Dietary interactions with lycopene are possible. For example, daily olestra consumption of 18 g/d may significantly reduce serum lycopene levels. As much as a 30% reduction has been noted after 16 weeks of olestra (Clinton, 1998). Lycopene requires fat for absorption and transport in the body. It will dissolve in olestra and will not be absorbed. Patients should eat foods that contain olestra at a different time of day than when they take lycopene supplements or eat lycopene-rich foods (Tomatoes and Tomato sauce as well as apricots, cranberries, eggplant, grapes, papaya, peaches, guava, and watermelon).
Lycopene levels are inconsistently affected by ingestion of alcohol or by smoking. Often patients with increased lipid levels will have lowered lycopene levels; Gerster, 1997).
Signs of poisoning are not to be expected with less than 100 g of the fresh leaves (or green Tomatoes) and for that reason is unlikely. Symptoms would be severe mucous membrane irritation (vomiting, diarrhea, and colic). Following absorption, dizziness, stupor, headache, bradycardia, respiratory disturbances, mild spasms and, in very severe cases, death through respiratory failure could occur.
Mode of Administration
The drug is commonly used in homeopathic dilutions.
The mother tincture is produced by maceration or percolation of the fresh or dried drug, with an ethanol content of 45%. Lycopene from Tomato is available as a dietary supplement.
When lycopene is supplemented on its own, dosing recommendations range from 5 to 10 mg daily
Hypercholesterolemia: 60 mg daily (Fuhrman et al, 1997).
5 drops, 1 tablet or 10 globules every 30 to 60 minutes (acute) or 1 to 3 times daily (chronic); parenterally: 1 to 2 mL SC (acute), 3 times daily; chronic: once a day (HAB1).