Forget the expensive skin creams, tomatoes may provide the best defence to keeping skin looking young and safe from sun damage, say scientists.
Tests show that eating tomato paste could help protect against sunburn and skin ageing caused by sunlight exposure.
The age-defying ingredient is lycopene – the natural pigment that makes tomatoes red – with highest levels found in processed or cooked tomatoes used in ketchup, paste, soup and juice.
Skin booster: Eating tomatoes helps boost the skin and protect against sunburn
Professor Mark Birch-Machin from Newcastle University, will present details of the research today (thurs) at the Royal Society of Medicine in London.
In the study, women eating a diet rich in processed tomatoes had increased skin protection, as seen by a reduction in skin redness and less DNA damage from ultraviolet (UV) exposure.
Researchers compared the skin of 20 women, half of whom were given five tablespoons (55g) of standard tomato paste with 10g of olive oil every day for 12 weeks.
The effects on their skin were compared with the remaining volunteers, aged between 21 and 47, eating just olive oil for the same length of time.
The volunteers were exposed to UV rays found in sunlight at the beginning and end of the trial.
The researchers found significant improvement in the skin’s ability to protect itself against UV among those eating tomato paste.
Compared with the other women, the tomato-eating group had 33 per cent more protection against sunburn in the form of less redness.
The researchers calculated that protection offered by the tomato paste to be equivalent to a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 1.3.
Skin samples taken from groups before and after trial showed an increase in levels of procollagen, a molecule which gives skin its structure and loss of which leads to skin ageing and lack of elasticity.
There was also less damage to mitochondrial DNA in the skin, which is also believed to be linked to skin ageing.
Dermatology scientist Prof Birch-Machin said the tomato paste eaten was not overly excessive, but the amount that would be consumed from a lot of tomato-based meals.
Ketchup is also believed to contain the ingredient that can protect skin
He said ‘Eating tomatoes will not make you invincible in the sun but it may be a useful addition to sun protection along with sunscreen, shade and clothing.
‘The protective effect of eating tomatoes on our mitochondria is important as they are the energy producers in all our body cells including skin.
‘Therefore being kind to our mitochondria is likely to contribute to improved skin health, which in turn may have an anti-ageing effect.’
Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant, which can reduce the inflammatory response to UV damage by neutralising harmful molecules that are produced in the skin as a result.
Sun damage from UV exposure includes premature wrinkles and skin cancer.
The highest levels of lycopene are found in processed tomatoes used in ketchup, soup and juice which are more easily absorbed into the body.
The typical daily intake of a British adult is less than one milligram, about 25 times less than the amount found in studies to protect against disease.
Previous research suggests 8oz of tomato juice, 150gm of pasta sauce, or one lycopene tablet a day are sufficient to boost blood lycopene levels.
Other international experts at the meeting, which is supported by Heinz, include Professor Indika Edirisinghe, from the Illinois Institute of Technology in the US, who suggests processed tomatoes can improve high blood pressure in people at risk of heart disease.
Studies on 28 volunteers following high and low tomato diets for 6 weeks found that blood pressure in men and women was significantly lower in those with elevated blood pressure.
Work by Dr Mridula Chopra from the University of Portsmouth suggests cooked tomatoes may intercept cancer growth or even kill prostate cancer cells.
Dr Chopra’s research shows that lycopene inhibits the proliferation of prostate cancer lines.
In test tube studies, lycopene reduced the adhesion and invasion properties of prostate cancer and has been shown to intercept mechanisms important to cancer initiation, progression and cell death.
While further clinical trials are needed, Dr Chopra said further trials are need, but in the meantime he recommends eating three to four servings of processed tomato products per week for prostate health.
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