Recent research has found that iron-rich foods can reduce the anti-cancer benefits of tomato. Iron reduces the absorption of lycopene up to 50%. Lycopene is a carotenoid present in tomato with anti-oxidant properties.
Tomatoes provide us a variety of health benefits. They protect us from cancer as well as hypertension and maintain the health of eyes, heart, and skin.
In the past researches, the observations have suggested an association between lycopene and a lower risk of many cancers. These include lung, colon and prostate cancers.
Many other foods that we consume in combination with tomatoes may promote or hinder the anti-cancer benefits of lycopene.
A recent small study suggested that consumption of iron-rich food or supplements can reduce the beneficial properties of lycopene.
The findings of the study are published in the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research.
Why do we get only half of the consume lycopene?
Rachel Kopec and his colleagues conducted a study to observe the formation and absorption of the metabolites of lycopene. The study included 7 males who consumed two test meals. One meal contained iron in it and the other was without iron in it.
The test meal included a shake and tomato extract. The participants consumed the shake with an iron supplement namely ferrous sulfate. After a certain time period, they consumed an iron-free diet.
The research team analyzed the blood and digestive fluid profiles of all participants after both meals.
Kopec said that when participants consumed iron with their meal, we observed up to a two-fold decrease in lycopene absorption over time.
Kopec added that this could have practical implications every time. For instance, a person consumes an iron-fortified cereal with tomato juice. He may absorb only half of the total amount of lycopene. But, without iron-containing food, he may get more amount of lycopene.
One of the researchers commented that nutrition can play a major role in preventing diseases in all individuals.
However, as a professional, it is our responsibility to observe and assess how the food we consume affects our health. In this way, we can give science-based recommendations to people.
How does iron reduce lycopene absorption?
Dr. Kopec demonstrated the observations of the research regarding the role of iron in the cellular disruption.
It is a general observation that when we mix iron with certain compounds, it destroys their structure. However, it was an interesting finding of the study that iron can even destroy potentially beneficial carotenoids like lycopene.
Carotenoids are red, orange and yellow pigments present in plants. In the western diet, alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lycopene, and lutein are particularly important.
All these pigments have antioxidant properties. However, researchers have not found yet that whether the anticancer benefits of these phytochemicals are due to the antioxidants present in them or not.
The recent study states that lycopene dilution due to iron occurs because iron produces metabolites of lycopene other than apo-lycopenoid.
Another possibility is that iron may disrupt the emulsification of tomato and fat, which is necessary for cellular lycopene absorption.
Anyhow, the study was based on a small-scale. Therefore, the researchers suggest conducting more studies to validate current findings and explore more about it.