Tomatoes keep doctors away

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Monday, August 12, 2013


HERE'S another good reason why we should eat tomatoes: It can dramatically reduce the risk of having a stroke. That's according to the Finnish study published in the Neurology journal.

The recent study has provided more support for diets rich in fruits and vegetables. In tomatoes, the key factor appears to be the powerful antioxidant lycopene.

The research –- based on data from more than 1,000 middle-aged men, followed for an average of 12 years -- indicates that people with the highest levels of lycopene in their blood have a 55 percent lower chance of suffering a stroke.

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"This study adds to the evidence that a diet high in fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of stroke," pointed out study author Jouni Karppi, of the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio.

Among the 258 men with the lowest levels of lycopene in their blood, nearly one in 10 had a stroke. But among the 259 with the highest levels of the antioxidant, that number fell to around one in 25.

"The correlation between lycopene levels and stroke risk was even stronger when the researchers only included strokes due to blood clots, leaving out those caused by hemorrhages," the news report said.

The participants with the highest levels of lycopene had a 59 percent lower risk of stroke from a blood clot than the men with the lowest levels of the antioxidant, the report added. In total, 67 of the men suffered strokes during the course of the study.

Researchers, however, looked at a number of other antioxidants -- alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, alpha-tocopherol, which is a form of vitamin E, and vitamin A, or retinol -- but did not find any link with stroke risk.

The new study is good news since another depressing report said that a new research suggests that stroke is increasing among young people. In a study of two American states, researchers found the rate of strokes among adults younger than 55 nearly doubled between 1993 and 2005.

Most strokes happen when a blood clot blocks the flow of blood, and therefore oxygen, to the brain. If people get to the hospital quickly, doctors can treat them with clot-dissolving drugs that may be able to stop the stroke in progress.

Or, to avoid having a stroke, people should keep on eating tomatoes. Remember what Hippocrates, the father of medicine, once said: “Let thy medicine be thy food.” He made this statement thousands of years ago and he must have tomato in his mind when he said.

Tomato is considered one of the richest of all foods in vitamins. It is very rich in all three important vitamins like A, B and C while most vegetables are deficient in one or more. Vitamin A plays an important role in vision, fighting infection and bacteria, maintaining skin and body linings, bone and body growth, reproduction, and normal cell development.

The B vitamins are very important to maintain good health. A deficiency of Vitamin B6 can raise a person's risk of heart disease. Evidence also indicates that about 40 percent of heart attacks and strokes may be caused by a deficiency of folic acid, another important B vitamin.

Vitamin C is needed by the body to form collagen and fiber for teeth, bone, cartilage, connective tissue, skin, and capillary walls. It helps in fighting bacterial infections. It may also protect against declining mental ability and stroke. Vitamin C of tomatoes is not destroyed by heat and therefore they are practically valuable for all sorts of stomach and liver troubles.

Tomato is a major crop in India, where several authors have written about its medicinal properties. Dr. S. J. Singh, author of Practical Naturopathy, described the tomato as very rich in food minerals which help to keep the blood alkaline and thus maintain a high resistance to disease. It is very rich, in iron and potash salts. Tomato stimulates torpid liver and is good in dyspepsia, diarrhea and dysentery. As a source of fiber, one medium tomato will equal one slice of whole wheat bread with a penalty of only 35 calories.

In his book, Introduction to Ayurveda, Dr. C. C. Thakur said that tomato improves the digestive system and cures chronic diseases of the stomach. It is a blood purifier, cures anemia, piles, liver troubles, and chronic fever.

On the other hand, Dr. G. S. Verma -- the man behind Miracles of Fruits -- has written that tomato is a sort of fruit and should better be eaten uncooked. Tomato removes constipation and strengthens teeth. It is easily digestible and as such, it is recommended as a good diet for invalids and especially in fevers, diabetes and after long fasts.

Although green tomatoes are wonderful when cooked or pickled, they should be avoided in large amounts when raw, nutritionists warned. Green tomatoes contain large amounts of tomatin, a toxin which is often extracted from seeds for its antibiotic prowess.

However, it was not until the discovery of the carotenoid lycopene that modern science began to truly recognize the healing power of the tomato. In 1998, a press release from the Heinz Institute of Nutritional Sciences touted the benefits of lycopene, an antioxidant which purportedly fights the free radicals that can interfere with normal cell growth and activity. Lycopene is present in tomatoes and, especially when tomatoes are cooked, has been found beneficial in preventing prostate cancer.

Lycopene is now recognized as a powerful substance in the fight against cardiovascular disease. A health expert wrote: "The lycopene-rich tomato, with its synergistic nutrients, is a powerful protector of heart disease. When the sauce is made in the traditional Italian fashion, with garlic, oregano, parsley and all the other spices, a tremendous amount of antioxidant, antithrombotic and anti-inflammatory action is added."

There is even some mounting evidence that lycopene in tomatoes may help to prevent cataracts, age-related macular degeneration and sunburns. More and more research appears to show that lycopene assists the immune system in protecting the body from illness.

Though it is botanically a fruit, the tomato is nutritionally categorized as a vegetable. Since "vegetable" is not a botanical term, there is no contradiction in a plant part being a fruit botanically while still being considered a vegetable.

Today, tomatoes are now eaten freely throughout the world. In the Philippines, tomato is one of the most common ingredients of Filipino dishes. It is served raw or cooked and can be processed into tomato sauce, ketchup, and seasonings.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on August 13, 2013.

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