Food as Medicine: Mango (Mangifera indica, Anacardiaceae)

History and Traditional Use

Range and Habitat

Mangifera indica (Anacardiaceae) is a tropical tree that grows from 33 feet to 131 feet in height and produces large, oval-shaped fruits that are red and gold when ripe, though some cultivars are green or yellow.1 The smooth-edged leaves of the mango tree are reddish when young, becoming dark green and shiny as they mature. The tree produces small pinkish-white flowers that precede the fruit.2,3 The mango fruit is a drupe, or stone fruit, containing a large single seed surrounded by fleshy pulp and a thin, leathery skin.4 The mango tree begins to bear fruit four to six years after planting and continues to produce fruit for about 40 years.3,4 Trees older than 10 years tend toward alternate or biennial bearing, producing fruit every other year.5

While the most commonly used part of the plant is the fruit, the mango tree has a variety of traditional uses that make use of the roots, peel, stem bark, leaves, flowers, and seed kernels. These parts typically contain greater amounts of bioactive compounds, including mangiferin, then the fruit.4 Belonging to the same plant family as the cashew (Anacardium occidentale) and pistachio (Pistacia vera), the mango is native to India and Burma, and has been cultivated since 2000 BCE.2 The mango was introduced to Africa about 1,000 years ago and to tropical America in the 19th century.1,2 Wild fruits have a minimal resemblance to the cultivated mangos, having a much smaller size and unpleasant turpentine-like taste. Currently, mangos are grown in tropical and warm temperate climates.3 India remains the largest producer, growing 65% of the world’s mango crop.5

Phytochemicals and Constituents

The macro- and micro nutrient composition and bioactive compounds present in M. indica contribute to its many health benefits. Mango fruits are a rich source of vitamins A, B and C. Mangos are also a good source of both soluble and insoluble fiber.3 Soluble fiber can help prevent cardiovascular disease and improve gastrointestinal health.

Mango is a source of many pharmacologically and medically important chemicals, including mangiferin, mangiferin acid, hydroxy-mangiferin, flavonoids, phenolic acids, and carotenes.6 Different parts of the plant have different chemical compositions. The bark, for example, contains catechins, amino acids, and phenolic and triterpenoid compounds.7,8 Due to these constituents, mango bark extract has shown antioxidant, immune system-enhancing, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal activities, which correspond to many of mango’s traditional medicinal uses.7 The xanthone mangiferin is found in many different plants across the Anacardiaceae family and shows promising results in the areas of antitumor, anti-diabetic, and anti-microbial actions.

The health benefits of the fruit pulp are due to its high concentration of antioxidant nutrients and phytochemicals, such as carotenoids. Carotenoids play an important role in protective health mechanisms against some forms of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and macular degeneration, as well as improving immune health.9 Specifically, mangos are high in beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A. Mango also contains smaller amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids important for maintaining eye health and preventing macular degeneration. These phytochemicals are antioxidants, meaning that they slow or prevent the oxidative process, thereby preventing or repairing damage to cells in the body.10

The polyphenols that have been identified in the mango fruit include gallic acid, Gallo-tannins, quercetin, isoquercitrin, mangiferin, ellagic acid, and beta-glucogallin. These polyphenols have powerful antioxidant activity as well as other potential therapeutic effects. Gallic acid, for example, is known to have anti-inflammatory and antitumor activities, while ellagic acid has been found to exhibit antimutagenic, antiviral, and antitumor effects.4

The most biologically active compound that has been studied in the mango tree is mangiferin. Mangiferin is synthesized by the plant as a chemical defense compound.6,11 Plant parts that contain the highest amounts of mangiferin include the leaves, stem bark, heartwood, and roots. Currently, researchers are investigating potential methods of processing mango bark and peel into a palatable ingredient or food additive. Mangiferin (not to be confused with the previously mentioned mangiferin) is one of a number of enzymes present in mangos that improves digestion. Others include catechol oxidase and lactase.3

Historical and Commercial Uses

Mangifera indica has been used in Ayurveda, India’s primary system of traditional medicine, for more than 4,000 years. The mango was thought to have aphrodisiacal properties and is still viewed as sacred today.3A variety of the plant’s parts are used as a paste or powder for cleaning the teeth, and the juice of the mango is considered a restorative tonic, as well as a treatment for heat stroke.6 Numerous parts of the mango tree are used in Ayurvedic medicine as an antiseptic, an astringent to tone lax tissues, a laxative, a diuretic, and to increase sweating, promote digestion, and expel parasitic worms or other internal parasites.12 The seeds have been used as an astringent and as a treatment for asthma. Fumes from the burning leaves are used as an inhalant to relieve hiccups and sore throats.6 The bark is used as an astringent in diphtheria and rheumatism (disorders of the joints and connective tissues), and the gum was used in dressings for cracked feet and for scabies (an infestation of the skin by the human itch mite [Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis]).

Current Ayurvedic practices use various parts of the mango for different ailments. For diarrhea, mango leaves are pounded together and taken with rice water.13 For nosebleeds, the juice of the mango seed is placed into the nostrils. For an enlarged spleen, ripe mango juice is consumed with honey. To treat gonorrhea, mango bark is pounded and added to milk and sugar. In some tropical countries, mango is actually used as a meat tenderizer, due to the power of the proteolytic enzymes that break down proteins.3In traditional ethnoveterinary medicine, all parts of the mango are used to treat abscesses, broken horns, rabid dog bites, tumors, snake bites, stings, heat stroke, miscarriage, bacterial illness, blisters and wounds in the mouth, inflammation of the inner ear, colic, diarrhea, liver disorders, excessive urination, tetanus, and asthma.14

Among the Tikunas, an indigenous people of Brazil, Colombia, and Peru, a mango leaf decoction was used as a contraceptive and abortifacient. Reportedly, taking a cupful on two successive days during menstruation acted as a contraceptive, and taking it for three days caused abortion.11,15

Mango fruit is processed at two stages of maturity. Green fruit is used to make chutney, pickles, curries, and dehydrated products like dried mango, amchoor (raw mango powder), and Panna (green mango beverage). Ripe fruit is processed into canned and frozen slices, pulp, concentrate, juices, nectar, jam, purée, cereal flakes, toffee, and various dried products.4

Modern Research

Studies indicate that M. indica possesses myriad therapeutic properties, including antidiabetic, antioxidant, antiviral, cardiotonic, hypotensive, and anti-inflammatory.6 Each of the mango’s parts — fruit, pulp, peel, seed, leaves, flowers, and bark — can be used therapeutically.

A 2000 study found that mango stem bark extract showed a powerful scavenging activity of hydroxyl radicals and acted as a chelator of iron.6 Although iron is an essential mineral, it is toxic in excessive amounts. Iron chelators could be an important approach to lessen iron-induced oxidative damage and prevent iron accumulation in diseases in which accumulation is prevalent, such as hemochromatosis, a metabolic disorder in which the body absorbs too much iron, and thalassemia, a rare, inherited blood disorder caused by a lack of hemoglobin, which results in fewer healthy red blood cells.4 This same study found a significant inhibitory effect on the degradation of brain cell membranes in an animal model and prevented DNA damage caused by some chemotherapy treatments.6,16

Polyphenolic compounds and related bioactivity are higher in the mango peel than the fruit, and higher still in the leaves and stem bark.4 The bark is one of the main parts of the tree used for medicinal purposes. A standardized aqueous extract of M. indica stem bark called Vimang (LABIOFAM Entrepreneurial Group; La Habana, Cuba) has been developed in Cuba. This extract has shown antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulatory properties and has been used in many countries for the treatment of heavy menstrual bleeding, diarrhea, syphilis, diabetes, scabies, cutaneous infections, and anemia.4,7

Much of the current research looks at extracts of mango bark or seed. There is a limited amount of literature that looks into the consumption of the mango fruit itself. However, a 2011 study looked at the consumption of freeze-dried mango fruit and its effects on weight loss and glucose tolerance, compared to hypolipidemic and hypoglycemic drugs, in mice fed a high-fat diet.17 In the study, consumption of freeze-dried mango prevented the increase in fat mass and the percentage of body fat. Compared with controls, mice given the freeze-dried mango had improved glucose tolerance and lowered insulin resistance.

Functional and medicinal properties of the non-fruit portions of the mango provide promising data for future uses of the plant and may allow for less waste of the non-edible parts of the mango. The mango peel, for example, constitutes about 15-20% of the mango fruit and typically is discarded prior to consuming the fruit. In commercial processing, the discarded peels become a wasteful by-product.18 A 2015 study conducted chemical analysis and determination of the bioactive compounds in a flour made from green mango peel.19 The mango peel flour had 54 g of total dietary fiber per 100 g of dry sample, compared to 1.8 g of total dietary fiber in wheat flour. The mango peel flour also contained 21.7 mg/g of total phenolic contents and 22.4 mg/g of total flavonoid contents.

The results of this study suggest that the mango peel flour exhibited functional properties similar to wheat flour, and could serve as an acceptable substitute in baked goods and other flour-containing foods. Dietary fiber in mango peel has been shown as a favorable source of high-quality polysaccharides due to its high starch, cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin, and pectin content combined with its low-fat content.18 In Vitro starch studies suggest low glycemic responses from mango peel fiber, which suggests a potential use for diabetic individuals.

Mango kernel oil has recently attracted attention due to its unsaturated fatty acid composition.18 Mango kernel oil has been widely researched for its function as an antioxidant and antimicrobial agent due to its high polyphenolic content.4 The major phenolic compounds in mango seed kernels are (in order of decreasing concentration): tannins, vanillin, coumarin, cinnamic acid, ferulic acid, caffeic acid, gallic acid, and mangiferin, all providing antioxidant protection.

Health Considerations

Possibly explained by its distant relation to poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix, Anacardiaceae) and poison ivy (T. radicans), mango peel may be irritating to the skin,3 particularly to people who are highly sensitive to these plants. This is due to the presence of alk(en)ylresorcinols, a mixture of substances that can cause contact dermatitis to those who are allergic or sensitive to it.20 Alk(en)ylresorcinol is similar to urushiol, the toxic resin that causes an itchy rash in those who come into contact with poison ivy. These allergens are more prevalent in the peel than the flesh. In one study, four patients developed hives and eczematous rash after exposure to mangos or mango trees. Children and other persons with food allergies should take caution when handling and consuming mango. Although allergy to mango is infrequent, mango has been identified as an allergy-provoking food in some individuals with other food allergies.


Nutrient Profile21

Macronutrient Profile: (Per 1 cup mango fruit)

99 calories
1.35 g protein
24.7 g carbohydrate
0.63 g fat

Secondary Metabolites: (Per 1 cup mango fruit)

Excellent source of:
Vitamin C: 60.1 mg (100.2% DV)
Vitamin A: 1,785 IU (35.7% DV)

Very good source of:
Folate: 71 mcg (17.75% DV)
Dietary Fiber: 2.6 g (10.4% DV)
Vitamin B6: 0.2 mg (10% DV)

Good source of:
Vitamin K: 6.9 mcg (8.63% DV)
Potassium: 277 mg (7.9% DV)
Vitamin E: 1.48 mg (7.33% DV)
Niacin: 1.1 mg (5.5% DV)

Also, provides:
Magnesium: 16 mg (4% DV)
Riboflavin: 0.06 mg (3.53% DV)
Thiamin: 0.05 mg (3.33% DV)
Phosphorus: 23 mg (2.3% DV)
Calcium: 18 mg (1.8% DV)
Iron: 0.26 mg (1.44% DV)

DV = Daily Value as established by the US Food and Drug Administration, based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Recipe: Mango and Watermelon Salad

Adapted from Mango.org22

Ingredients:

  • 2 large, ripe mangos, peeled, pitted, and diced
  • 1 cup watermelon, diced
  • 1/4 cup red onion, finely diced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed, seeded, and finely diced
  • 12 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 cup fresh arugula, washed and dried
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

Directions:

  1. Combine mango, watermelon, onion, pepper, tomato, and arugula in a large bowl. Toss to combine.

  2. Whisk together remaining ingredients and taste, adjusting seasoning if necessary. Drizzle dressing over the salad, toss to

    combine,

    and serve.

References

  1. Van Wyk B-E. Food Plants of the World. Portland, OR: Timber Press; 2006.
  2. The National Geographic Society. Edible: An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Food Plants. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society; 2008.
  3. Murray M, Pizzorno J, Pizzorno L. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York, NY: Atria Books; 2005.
  4. Masibo M, He Q. Mango bioactive compounds and related nutraceutical properties: A review. Food Rev Int. 2009;25:346-370.
  5. Morton JF. Mango. In: Morton JF. Fruits of Warm Climates. Miami, FL: J.F. Morton; 1987:221-239.
  6. Shah KA, Patel MB, Patel RJ, Parmar PK. Mangifera indica (Mango). Pharmacogn Rev. 2010;4(7):42-48.
  7. Wauthoz N, Balde A, Balde ES, Damme MV, Duez P. Ethnopharmacology of Mangifera indica L. bark and pharmacological studies of its main c-glucosylxanthone, mangiferin. Int J Biomed Pharma Sci. 2007;1(2):112-119.
  8. Hamid K, Algahtani A, Kim MS, et al. Tetracyclic triterpenoids in herbal medicines and their activities in diabetes and its complications. Curr Top Med Chem. 2015;15(23):2406-2430.
  9. Hewavitharana AK, Tan ZW, Shimada R, Shaw PN, Flanagan BM. Between fruit variability of the bioactive compounds, B-carotene and mangiferin, in mango. Nutrition and Dietetics. 2013;70:158-163.
  10. Johnson EJ. The role of carotenoids in human health. Nutr Clin Care. 2002;5(2):56-65.
  11. Schultes RE, Raffauf RF. The Healing Forest: Medicinal and Toxic Plants of the Northwest Amazonia.Portland, OR: Dioscorides Press; 1990.
  12. Johnson EJ. The role of carotenoids in human health. Nutr Clin Care. 2002;5(2):56-65.
  13. Amra (Mangifera indica) National R&D Facility for Rasayana website. Available here. Accessed May 19, 2016.
  14. Williamson EM. Major Herbs of Ayurveda. London, UK: Elsevier Science Limited; 2002.
  15. Duke JA, Vasquez R. Amazonian Ethnobotanical Dictionary. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 1994.
  16. Martinez G, Delgado R, Perez G, Garrido G, Nunez Selles AJ, Leon OS. Evaluation of the in-vitroantioxidant activity of Mangifera indica L: extract (Vimang). Phytother Res. 2000;14:424–7.
  17. Lucas EA, Li W, Peterson SK, et.al. Mango modulates body fat and plasma glucose and lipids in mice fed a high-fat diet. Brit J Nutr. 2011;106:1495-1505.
  18. Tiwari BK, Brunton NP, Brennan CS. Handbook of Plant Food Phytochemicals: Sources, Stability and Extraction. West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd; 2013.
  19. Abidin NSA, Mohamad SN, Jaafar MN. Chemical composition, antioxidant activity and functional properties of mango (Mangifera indica L. var Perlis Sunshine) peel flour. Appl Mech Mater. 2015(754-755):1065-1070.
  20. Knödler M, Reisenhauer K, Schieber A, Carle R. Quantitative determination of allergenic 5-Alk(en)ylresorcinols in mango (Mangifera indica L.) peel, pulp, and fruit products by high-performance liquid chromatography. J Agric Food Chem. 2009;57:3639-3644.
  21. Basic Report, 09176, Mangos, raw. Agricultural Research Service, USDA website. Available here. Accessed May 19, 2016.
  22. National Mango Board. Mango and watermelon salad. Mango.org website. Available here. Accessed May 18, 2016.
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Food as Medicine: Arugula (Eruca sativa, Brassicaceae)

History and Traditional Use

Range and Habitat

Arugula (Eruca sativa, Brassicaceae), also known as rucola and rocket, is a weedy annual that is drought-tolerant and prefers a hot, dry climate. The name “arugula” is a modern American designation and likely derives from the Italian term “rucola.” The name “rocket” is more common in British English, as is roquette in France. Both rucola and roquette are diminutives of the Latin eruca, which means “caterpillar” and may refer to the fuzzy appearance of the young stems. The different names for arugula demonstrate the wide area where it grows, in a swath of the northern Mediterranean and the near east that stretches from Portugal to Afghanistan. It has been naturalized in northern Europe and North America.

Arugula is distinguished by its upright stem, which can have four-petaled white, yellow, or purple flowers, as well as its green, aromatic, serrated leaves. It’s thin, narrow fruit is a pod filled with small, oil-rich seeds. Although it is commonly thought of as a relative of spinach or lettuce, it is actually a cruciferous vegetable of the family Brassicaceae, which includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, and cabbage.

arugula flowerThe leaves and seeds of arugula are both edible. The leaves boast an aromatic, peppery, and mustard-like flavor and are mainly consumed raw in salads. Young leaves are tenderer and have a milder flavor, while mature leaves are larger, woodier, and more bitter. The seeds can be pressed for oil.

Phytochemicals and Constituents

As a leafy green vegetable and a member of the family Brassicaceae, arugula is an extremely nutrient-dense food. It is low in calories and rich in vitamins A, C and K, folate, magnesium, and calcium. Calcium, magnesium, and potassium help controls blood pressure and maintains bone health. It also provides riboflavin, potassium, copper, iron, and zinc. Arugula’s health benefits are a potent combination of cruciferous vegetable and leafy green, as it contains compounds found in both: glucosinolates, a group of compounds which exert powerful anticancer and detoxifying mechanisms, and antioxidant phytochemicals such as carotenes and chlorophyll. Compared to other brassica plants, arugula has one of the highest beta-carotene, kaempferol, and quercetin contents.

Arugula seed oil, commonly called taramira or Jamba oil, is likewise rich in glucosinolates. It also contains high amounts of erucic and gadoleic acids, which have more commercial than health benefits, as detailed in the following section.

Historical and Commercial Uses

Ancient and modern practitioners interpret arugula’s peppery taste as a fiery, “lively” quality, which lends itself to a variety of different uses. In the ancient world, the Romans and the Egyptians considered arugula to be a potent aphrodisiac which was used to “restore vigor to the genitalia,” and planted it at the base of statues of the god Priapus, who was considered the god of fertility, livestock, and gardens. Its reputation as an aphrodisiac was widespread and persistent, and some monasteries banned its cultivation on their grounds, citing its “hotness and lechery.”

Arugula had widespread use in Greco-Arab and Islamic medicine practices, primarily for its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. It was taken orally as a general tonic for wellness and as an aid to digestion and kidney function. Additionally, records exist of a physician’s prescribing a topical treatment of ground seeds mixed with cream for acne. Evidence of arugula use and cultivation dates back to the Hellenistic Period in Greece (323 BCE – 31 BCE).

Due to its high vitamin A and C content, arugula has been used as a therapeutic food for eye infections and night blindness, and its sharpness and astringency reveals its stimulant, diuretic, and antiscorbutic (effective against scurvy) properties. Many of its modern and traditional uses overlap with dandelion greens, to which it is very similar in taste and nutritional profile. The leaves have also been used topically as a rubefacient (drawing blood to the surface of the skin) to improve circulation.

The fresh leaves of arugula have been consumed and favored as a salad green in Mediterranean countries for centuries. With the growing popularity of the Mediterranean cuisine, its consumption continues to grow in the United States as well as the rest of the world. Arugula is best consumed raw or very lightly cooked, as many of its beneficial compounds (chlorophyll, glucosinolates, and isothiocyanates) degrade quickly when heated.

In India, Pakistan, and Iran, arugula is grown as a commercial oilseed crop. Due to its high erucic acid content, taramira oil and similar oils are used as commercial lubricants and as massage oils. The seed matter left behind after oil processing is used as livestock fodder. Where it is popular, including India, taramira oil also has a widespread culinary use, though it must age for six months after processing to mellow its initial overwhelming acrid taste. Once aged, the oil can be used in salads and for cooking purposes and is a traditional ingredient in pickles and mustard.

Modern Research

As a member of the Brassicaceae family, arugula shares the extensively-studied effects of its relatives, such as broccoli and kale.

Cruciferous vegetables are excellent sources of antioxidants and are highly regarded for their anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, chemo-preventive, and cardioprotective effects. They have high levels of sulfur-containing compounds called glucosinolates which, when crushed or chewed, turn into indoles and isothiocyanates. These two bioactive constituents have been shown to be potent cancer-fighters, protecting against many forms of cancers, including breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer.

Arugula can be a valuable addition to the diet of people with Crohn’s disease and other gastrointestinal conditions, providing valuable vitamins, minerals, and insoluble fiber. Those who suffer from Crohn’s disease are at higher risk for vitamin deficiencies and malnutrition as a result of a limited diet; however, in a 2012 clinical study, almost 80% of subjects reported no change in their symptoms after consuming steady amounts of arugula. Though cruciferous vegetables are considered off-limits to people following a low-FODMAP diet (which seeks to eliminate fermentable oglio-, di-, and monosaccharides and polyols due to a bacterial imbalance in the gut), arugula was well tolerated and also should be considered as a nutrient-dense addition for people with these sensitivities.


Nutrient Profile


Macronutrient Profile:
(Per 1 cup arugula leaves)

5 calories
0.52 g protein
0.73 g carbohydrate
0.13 g fat

Secondary Metabolites: (Per 1 cup arugula leaves)

Excellent source of:
Vitamin K: 21.7 mcg (27.13% DV)

Good source of:

Vitamin A: 475 IU (9.5% DV)
Vitamin C: 3 mg (5% DV)
Folate: 19 mcg (4.75% DV)
Vitamin E: 0.09 mg (4.48% DV)
Calcium: 32 mg (3.2% DV)

Also provides:
Magnesium: 9 mg (2.25% DV)
Potassium: 74 mg (2.11% DV)
Iron: 0.29 mg (1.61% DV)
Dietary Fiber: 0.3 g (1.2% DV)
Riboflavin: 0.02 mg (1.18% DV)
Vitamin B6: 0.02 mg (1% DV)
Phosphorus: 10 mg (1% DV)

DV = Daily Value as established by the US Food and Drug Administration, based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Recipe: Arugula and Walnut Pesto

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup raw, unsalted walnuts halves
  • 2 cups fresh arugula leaves
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt to taste

Directions:

  1. In a dry, nonstick skillet over medium heat, toast walnuts until lightly browned and fragrant. Be careful not to burn. Remove from the heat.
  2. In a food processor, combine arugula, walnuts, and garlic and pulse until roughly chopped. Continue pulsing, drizzling in olive oil in a steady stream until combined. Stir in Parmesan cheese and add salt to taste.
  3. Alternatively, this recipe can be made with a mortar and pestle. Roughly chop the arugula leaves and toast walnuts as described, then combine nuts, salt, and garlic in a mortar and grind until smooth. Then add the cheese, olive oil, and arugula, and continue grinding until smooth.

What Is Leaky Gut? Causes, Symptoms, and Relief

A leaky gut is characterized by perforations in the intestinal wall that allow molecules or microorganisms to pass through into the bloodstream. The phenomenon is a profound failure of the intestines’ duty to act as a protective barrier. Leaky gut syndrome is difficult to diagnose; many physicians do not know to look for it when diagnosing patients who are experiencing a complicated array of symptoms.

What Exactly Is the Gut?

The gut encompasses the intestinal mucosa (lining), the microbial community (and its genes) in the intestines, and the immune system and nerves. In addition to being the most important organ in the digestive system, the intestines are the largest immune organ, with roughly 2,700 square feet (or 250 meters) of surface area. Eating or drinking exposes this tennis court-sized area to the outside world. The digested molecules (micro-, macro-, and phytonutrients) in food are supposed to filter through the intestinal mucosa, which is made up of the epithelial cells on the surface of the small intestine. The contents of the intestines are supposed to remain in the intestinal lumen and continue the journey to the colon. But, with a leaky gut, the contents of the intestine can slip, unregulated, between the epithelial cells of the intestine.

The spaces between the intestinal cells, known as tight junctions, are supposed to form a seal between the inside of the intestinal lumen and the rest of the body. When the tight junctions aren’t tight enough, things slip past the intestinal gatekeepers and into the bloodstream. From here pathogens, toxins, and antigens can circulate throughout the body, wreaking havoc and provoking a systemic inflammatory response. The loose gaps between the cells in the intestinal mucosa are associated with a myriad of conditions and syndromes including:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
  • Food allergies
  • Celiac disease
  • Asthma
  • Autism
  • Parkinson’s

What Causes Leaky Gut?

The tight junctions are not a perfect barrier. A number of factors can cause them to relax or contract—diet, medication, hormones, inflammation, and more. When the tight junctions relax or contract, their function may be disrupted.

1. Diet

Few things affect health as much as diet. Several primary offenders appear to contribute to the development of leaky gut:

  • Alcohol: When the human body metabolizes alcohol, the metabolic product acetaldehyde can increase intestinal permeability.
  • Sugar: Sugar and artificial sweeteners cause inflammation that compromises gut health. Additionally, a urine analysis that measures glucose in the urine is a useful indicator of the severity of leaky gut.
  • Dairy: Dairy products are linked to gastrointestinal disorders—–particularly among individuals on the autism spectrum.
  • Gluten: Consumption of gluten contributes to increased intestinal permeability in those with gluten sensitivity.
  • Additives: Industrial food additives such as emulsifiers, solvents, microbial transglutaminase, glucose, and salt contribute to leaky gut syndrome.
  • Pesticides: Glyphosate disrupts gut bacteria, which can contribute to the development of intestinal permeability.

    2. Candida

    Several species of candida are known to disrupt the makeup of the gut microbiota. The resulting imbalance in the microbiota is called dysbiosis. These disturbances can lead to the development of digestive disorders including leaky gut.

    3. Chronic Stress

    It’s no secret that stress negatively affects your health but it’s especially taxing on gut health. Psychological stress increases the presence of inflammatory cytokines, a class of signaling proteins created by the immune system that contributes to the development of leaky gut. Animal studies have shown that both psychological and physical stress compromise the integrity of the intestinal barrier.

    4. Environmental Toxins

    The environment is flooded with harmful chemicals and substances, many of which pose a significant risk to your health. Mercury, BPA, fungicides, and insecticides can all negatively affect intestinal permeability.

    5. Medications

    Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen have demonstrated a tendency to increase intestinal permeability and provoke inflammation.

    6. Zinc Deficiency

    Zinc is an essential trace mineral that supports the immune system and plays a significant role in irritable bowel diseases. Zinc deficiency can lead to intestinal permeability, while supplementation with zinc supports the function of the tight junctions.

    Symptoms of Leaky Gut Syndrome

    You might think the symptoms of leaky gut are all digestive disorders but, because leaky gut allows foreign bodies to enter the bloodstream, it can exert a wide range of effects the body as a whole and produce a varied array of symptoms. Some of the more obvious symptoms include allergies, cardiovascular disturbances, and a multitude of metabolic disruptions. Chronic fatigue syndrome and depression are separate and unique conditions, but both are known to result from compromised integrity of the intestinal mucosa.

    Intestinal permeability allows foreign microbes access directly to the bloodstream. In response, the immune system releases antibodies, which mistakenly attach to normal proteins in the blood, tagging them for immune action. Fortunately, there are ways to ease the burden of living with a leaky gut.

    What’s the Best Solution for Leaky Gut?

    Following a healthy diet is one of the most effective measures to help manage leaky gut. Foods that are a source of probiotics are helpful for mitigating the effects of the disorder. Nutrients like glutamine and curcumin support the intestinal environment by balancing the overstimulated immune response and the oxidative stress that weakens the intestinal wall.

    Monitoring what goes into your body is one of the best natural remedies for managing leaky gut. If you suffer from a digestive disorder, whether it’s leaky gut, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, or any of the many disorders associated with hyperpermeability, try keeping a daily food journal to identify the foods that trigger symptoms. If you experience frequent flare-ups, it’s time to make significant lifestyle changes such as incorporating the best foods for leaky gut into your diet to support your health and quality of life.

Food as Medicine Ginger (Zingiber officinale, Zingiberaceae)

History and Traditional Use
Range and Habitat

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a tropical perennial herb native to Southeast Asia and widely cultivated in China, India, Nigeria, Australia, Jamaica, and Haiti.1 Its subterranean stem, known as a rhizome, is the edible and medicinal portion of the plant.2 Gingerroot is characterized by its knotted, beige exterior and its yellow interior. The herb features thick, protruding, reed-like3 stems and lanceolate leaves arranged in two vertical columns on opposite sides of the stem.4 Seasonally unfurling from ginger’s leaves are dense, ovoid-shaped flower structures that produce yellow-green flowers with a deep purple, yellow-marked lip.3Ginger plants can have an indefinite spread in tropical climates, though it is susceptible to pests and disease.5 The flavor of ginger is described as sweet and peppery with a prominent spicy aroma due to the presence of gingerols and ketones.6

Phytochemicals and Constituents

Thus far, researchers have identified 115 chemical components in a variety of dried and fresh ginger types.6 The most important phenolic elements of the ginger root are gingerols and their ginger-related composites — paradols, zingerone, and shogaols.6,7 Gingerols are the most abundant constituents of fresh ginger6; the three other phenolic compounds are not as plentiful. When gingerols are cooked or dried, they transform into various bioactive compounds,6 many of which have beneficial antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticarcinogenic properties.7 Research suggests that the optimal dosage of ginger ranges from 250 mg to 4.8 g per day of fresh or dried rhizomes.6,8 Other dosages for ginger intake vary depending on the form in which they are consumed and the purpose for which they are intended.8

Historical and Commercial Uses

In India, ginger has been used as a flavoring agent in food and beverage preparations as well as in traditional Ayurveda medicinal practices.4 Historically, it was regarded as the mahaoushadha (“the great medicine”) among ancient Indians.9 Fresh and dried ginger is used commonly in Ayurvedic medicine for the treatment of ailments such as indigestion, fever, and digestive disorders.8 Fresh ginger is thought to be beneficial in reducing nausea and vomiting due to the presence of shogaol, and dried ginger has been shown to alleviate chronic respiratory conditions.10 In addition, gingerol, the most predominate pungent bioactive compound of ginger, has been reported to stimulate digestive enzymes to help improve gastrointestinally (GI) issues.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, fresh ginger root (sheng jiang) is considered warm and pungent and recognized for dispersing cold within the stomach, which contributes to the treatment of nausea and vomiting.11 It also is acknowledged as an expeller of exterior cold, quelling inflammation of the stomach and infections related to the cold and flu. Dry ginger (gan jiang) is considered to be more hot and pungent than fresh ginger, and it is responsible for dispersing cold in the spleen region, thereby alleviating ailments such as diarrhea and poor appetite. Quick-fried ginger (pao jiang) is warm and bitter and used to treat symptoms associated with conditions such as dysmenorrhea and diarrhea. Asian cuisine features ginger in a number of dishes for flavoring, including soups, curries, rice dishes, stir-fries, and sauces.12

It is believed that both the Chinese and Indians have used ginger root for medicinal purposes for more than 5,000 years; however, the exact origin is unknown.6 Highly prized for its medicinal properties, ginger was a popular trading commodity exported to the Roman Empire more than 2,000 years ago from India. (Anecdotally, Queen Elizabeth I of England is credited with the creation of the gingerbread man, which evolved into a popular treat consumed during the Christmas holidays.)

Ginger is used commercially in a variety of forms, including, but not limited to, fresh, dried, and candied.6The age of the ginger plant determines its culinary and medicinal use. Young ginger root harvested at five months has not matured and typically has a mild flavor, suitable to be used fresh. At nine months, ginger characteristically has a thick skin and pungent root, from which the volatile oils can be extracted. This material also is used in dried or ground form as a spice and in commercial baking products. Further, ginger is added as a flavoring to a number of different beverages such as ginger ale, ginger beer, and ginger wine.12

Modern Research

A considerable amount of research demonstrates and supports the significant health benefits of ginger. The majority of clinical evidence for ginger’s medicinal properties is related to nausea caused by pregnancy or chemotherapy.13

Three clinical studies have explored the effects of ginger in reducing chemotherapy-induced nausea in young adults and children.14-16 The results from these studies indicated that ginger is effective in decreasing chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. More specifically, one trial indicated that supplementing with ginger (0.5 g to 1.0 g liquid ginger root extract) reduces nausea.16 In a separate study, researchers observed reductions in the prevalence of nausea in patients with breast cancer when 1.5 g powdered dried ginger root was added to an antiemetic therapy following chemotherapy.14

Another clinical study observed the effects of powdered ginger in patients with intra- and postoperative nausea accompanying Cesarean sections.17 The results indicated that episodes of intraoperative nausea were reduced when ginger was administered orally. However, ginger did not have an effect on the overall incidence of intraoperative nausea and vomiting.

Ginger has been explored as a possible treatment for other GI issues such as dyspepsia, gastric emptying, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).18-20 The authors of one clinical study tested the effects of ginger on functional dyspepsia and gastric motility.18 The results indicated that ginger increased gastric emptying more rapidly than the placebo; however, ginger did not influence any GI symptoms. Researchers of a related clinical trial examined ginger’s effects on IBS over a period of 28 days.20 The results indicated that the group taking 1 g of ginger had a 26.4% reduction in symptoms.

Studies have shown that ginger may be beneficial for non-GI-related conditions as well. In two separate clinical studies, researchers explored ginger’s mitigating impact on dysmenorrhea.  The first study was conducted for a period of three days based on reports of pain experienced during the first two days of menstruation each month.21 The results suggested that ginger had more of an impact on dysmenorrhea symptoms compared to muscle-relaxation exercises. A similar clinical study found that at the end of the study period, 82.85% of the participants in the experimental group reported symptom improvement compared to 47.05% of the participants in the placebo group.22

Three clinical studies have examined the effects of ginger in the treatment of colorectal cancer.7,23,24 As noted, the bioactive compounds of ginger contain antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticarcinogenic properties, which can interfere with pathways responsible for cancer development.7 The results of all three studies demonstrated that an intake of 2 g of ginger root was able to reduce proliferation in the colorectal epithelium. Further, one trial illustrated that ginger simultaneously increased apoptosis (normal, programmed cell death) and differentiation.7 Ginger also exhibited an anti-inflammatory effect in individuals of normal risk and lowered COX-1 in individuals at higher risk.23,24

Other clinical studies have explored the effects of ginger in relation to muscle pain, respiratory distress syndrome, chronic lower-back pain, satiety, migraines, osteoarthritis, and type 2 diabetes.25-32

Nutrient Profile33

Macronutrient Profile: (Per 1 tablespoon [6 g] raw ginger)

5 calories
0.11 g protein
1.07 g carbohydrate
0.04 g fat

Secondary Metabolites: (Per 1 tablespoon [6 g] raw ginger)

Good source of:

Magnesium: 3 mg (0.75% DV)
Potassium: 25 mg (0.7% DV)
Vitamin B6: 0.01 mg (0.5% DV)
Vitamin C: 0.3 mg (0.5% DV)
Dietary Fiber: 0.1 g (0.4% DV)
Folate: 1 mcg (0.25% DV)
Niacin: 0.05 mg (0.25% DV)
Phosphorus: 2 mg (0.2% DV)
Calcium: 1 mg (0.1% DV)

DV = Daily Value as established by the US Food and Drug Administration, based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Recipe: Candied Ginger

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fresh ginger root
  •  3 cups water
  • 3 cups granulated sugar, plus additional for coating

Directions:

  1. Spray a cooling rack with nonstick spray and set it in a sheet pan lined with wax paper.

  2. Peel and thinly slice the ginger root.

  3. Bring sugar and water to a boil in a saucepan. When the sugar is dissolved, add the ginger and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes, until ginger is tender.

  4. Drain the ginger and reserve the liquid for another use. (The reserved liquid can be further reduced to make ginger syrup or added to drinks.) Spread the ginger on the cooling rack in a single layer and dry for 30 minutes.

  5. Once dry, toss ginger slices with additional sugar to coat. Store in an airtight container.

References

  1. Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J, eds. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council and Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000.
  2. Webb GP. Dietary Supplements and Functional Foods. West Sussex, UK: Blackwell Publishing; 2011.
  3. Bown D. The Herb Society of America New Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses. London, UK: Dorling Kindersley Ltd.; 2001.
  4. Ginger. University of Maryland Medical Center website. Available here. Accessed February 23, 2015.
  5. Ginger Root Production in Hawaii. Hawaii Cooperative Extension Service website. Available here. Accessed February 23, 2015.
  6. Bode AM, Dong Z. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2011.
  7. Citronberg J, Bostick R, Ahearn T, et al. Effects of ginger supplementation on cell-cycle biomarkers in the normal-appearing colonic mucosa of patients at increased risk for colorectal cancer: results from a pilot, randomized, and controlled trial. Cancer Prev Res. 2013;6(4):271-281.
  8. Blumenthal M, Hall T, Goldberg A, Kunz T, Dinda K, Brinckmann J, et al, eds. The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; 2003.
  9. Ravindran PN, Babu KN. Ginger: the Genus Zingiber. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2005.
  10. Ginger – Ayurveda “Root” to Good Health. Kerala – Home of Ayurveda website. Available here. Accessed March 4, 2015.
  11. Yang Y. Chinese Herbal Medicine Comparisons and Characteristics. London, UK: Churchill Livingston; 2002.
  12. Van Wyk BE. Food Plants of the World. Portland, OR: Timber Press; 2006.
  13. Weimer K, Schulte J, Maichle A, et al. Effects of ginger and expectations on symptoms of nausea in a balanced placebo design. PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e49031.
  14. Panahi Y, Saadat A, Sahebkar A, Hashemian F, Taghikhani M, Abolhasani E. Effect of ginger on acute and delayed chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting: a pilot, randomized, open-label clinical trial. Integr Cancer Ther. 2012;11(3):204-211.
  15. Pillai AK, Sharma KK, Gupta YK, Bakhshi S. Anti-emetic effect of ginger powder versus placebo as an add-on therapy in children and young adults receiving high emetogenic chemotherapy. Pediatr Blood Cancer. 2011;56(2):234-238.
  16. Ryan JL, Heckler CE, Roscoe J, et al. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) reduces acute chemotherapy-induced nausea: a URCC CCOP study of 576 patients. Support Care Cancer. 2012;20(7):1479-1489.
  17. Kalava A, Darji SJ, Kalstein A, Yarmush JM, SchianodiCola J, Weinberg J. Efficacy of ginger on intraoperative and postoperative nausea and vomiting in elective cesarean section patients. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2013;169(2):184-188.
  18. Hu ML, Rayner CK, Wu KL, Chuah SK, Tai WC, Chou YP, et al. Effect of ginger on gastric motility and symptoms of functional dyspepsia. World J Gastroenterol. 2011;17(11):105-110.
  19. Shariatpanahi ZV, Taleban FA, Mokhtari M, Shahbazi S. Ginger extract reduces delayed gastric emptying and nosocomial pneumonia in adult respiratory distress syndrome patients hospitalized in an intensive care unit. J Crit Care. 2010;25(4):647-50.
  20. Van Tilburg MA, Palsson OS, Ringel Y, Whitehead WE. Is ginger effective for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome? A double-blind randomized controlled pilot trial. Complement Ther Med. 2014;22(1):17-20.
  21. Halder A. Effect of progressive muscle relaxation versus intake of ginger powder on dysmenorrhoea amongst the nursing students in Pune. Nurs J India. 2012:103(4)152-157.
  22. Jenabi E. The effect of ginger for relieving of primary dysmenorrhoea. J Pak Med Assoc. 2013;63(1):8-10.
  23. Jiang Y, Turgeon DK, Wright BD, Sidahmed E, Ruffin MT, Brenner DE, Sen A, Zick S. Effect of ginger root on cyclooxygenase-1 and 15-hydroxyprostaglandin dehydrongenase expression in colonic mucosa of a human at normal and increased risk of colorectal cancer. Eur J Cancer Prev. 2013;22(5):455-460.
  24. Zick SM, Turgeon DK, Vareed SK, et al. Phase II study of the effects of ginger root extract on eicosanoids in colon mucosa in people at normal risk for colorectal cancer. Cancer Prev Res. 2011;4(11):1929-1937.
  25. Black CD, Herring MP, Hurley DJ, O’Connor PJ. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) reduces muscle pain caused by eccentric exercise. J Pain. 2010;11(9):894-903.
  26. Cady RK, Goldstein J, Nett R, Mitchell R, Beach ME, Browning R. A double-blind placebo-controlled pilot study of sublingual feverfew and ginger in the treatment of a migraine. Headache. 2011;51(7):1078-1086.
  27. Drozdov VN, Kim V a, Tkachenko E V, Varvanina GG. Influence of a specific ginger combination on gastropathy conditions in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee or hip. J Altern Complement Med. 2012;18(6):583-588.
  28. Mozaffari-Khosravi H, Talaei B, Jalali B-A, Najarzadeh A, Mozayan MR. The effect of ginger powder supplementation on insulin resistance and glycemic indices in patients with type 2 diabetes: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Complement Ther Med. 2014;22(1):9-16.
  29. Mansour MS, Ni Y-M, Roberts AL, Kelleman M, Roychoudhury A, St-Onge M-P. Ginger consumption enhances the thermic effect of food and promotes feelings of satiety without affecting metabolic and hormonal parameters in overweight men: a pilot study. Metabolism. 2012;61(10):1347-1352.
  30. Vahdat Shariatpanahi Z, Mokhtari M, Taleban FA, et al. Effect of enteral feeding with ginger extract in acute respiratory distress syndrome. J Crit Care. 2013;28(2):217.e1-217.e6.
  31. Sritoomma N, Moyle W, Cooke M, O’Dwyer S. The effectiveness of Swedish massage with aromatic ginger oil in treating chronic low back pain in older adults: a randomized controlled trial. Complement Ther Med. 2014;22(1):26-33.
  32. Maghbooli M, Golipour F, Esfandabadi AM, Youse M. Comparison between the efficacy of ginger and sumatriptan in the ablative treatment of a common migraine. Phytother Res. 2014;28(3):412-415.
  33. Basic Report: 11216, Ginger root, raw. Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture website. Available here. Accessed February 23, 2015.

What Is Lycopene?

The important plant-based pigment lycopene is found mainly in tomatoes. This carotenoid is just one of the approximately six hundred members of the family of carotenoid compounds. These beneficial phytochemicals are very good for health and are found in abundant quantities in many common fruits and vegetables consumed daily. The humble tomato and products made from tomato form the best source of lycopene.

The most famous carotenoid is, of course, beta-carotene, found in carrots. This compound has stoked the curiosity of researchers for a long time due to its role as a pro-vitamin A in the body – it undergoes chemical conversion to form vitamin A, whenever the supply of the vitamin runs low. The majority of clinical research has focused on the effects of a few beneficial carotenoids including the much-studied beta-carotene, at the same time, the often ignored lesser carotenoids like lycopene, that does not show pro-vitamin A-like activity, has been sidelined. In previous decades, scientist believed that these other carotenoids like lycopene were mere “junk” carotenoids, which had little purpose in the body other than their role as natural pigments lending color to fruits and vegetables. As time has passed, however, the unique and beneficial roles that carotenoids like lycopene play in the body have been realized following a more thorough clinical investigation. Now, most researchers are of the opinion that lycopene has a much more potent antioxidant effect than beta-carotene in the body; it is also believed to be a strong anti-carcinogen.

tomatoes-heirloomLycopene has been tested on human and animal cancer cells every since the first positive results of its anti-carcinogenic action came out. In these second series of confirmatory trials, the results obtained hold great potential and promise for the future treatment strategies. In clinical reports, the ability of lycopene to suppress the growth of cancer cells from cancerous breast, lung, and endometrial tissues has been announced by the researchers. In fact, the potent effect of lycopene was further confirmed laboratory animals that were fed potent carcinogens, in these animals the administration of high levels of lycopene helped to suppress all the cancerous growths resulting from the forced use of carcinogens. One relationship was clear, the effectiveness of the lycopene in suppressing cancer was greater the higher the doses administered. Researchers have also confirmed the great effectiveness of lycopene in dealing with the chemical carcinogens found in tobacco smoke. In one more study, results indicated that the use of lycopene can possibly give a protective effect to skin against the photo damage from long exposure to ultraviolet light – long exposure to sunlight during a lifetime can increase wrinkles and causes skin cancer in many people.

As a human grows older they become more susceptible to diseases, as the levels of all nutrients in the blood decline with old age. Lycopene supplements are ideal as a potent nutrient for all individuals who are 50 or older, particularly if such individuals do not consume at least one tomato dish on a daily basis. The ideal way to get lycopene in the diet is not by drinking a glass of tomato juice, even consuming a fresh tomato a day will not be sufficient in the long run – supplements must be taken to ensure adequate amounts in the body. The human body does not absorb the lycopene present in tomatoes well, if the vegetable is not heated or mixed with a little fat, like olive oil. Therefore, supplemental lycopene is the best to get adequate amounts of the lycopene.

Studies have established that individuals, who consume diets rich in tomatoes, have a lower risk of suffering from certain types of cancer. The lycopene in the tomatoes seemed to suppress the cancers of the lung, the prostate, and the stomach, particularly well. The effect of lycopene and its preventive role against cancer or its potential use in treating cancers requires further clinical research. One can be certain, that with the beneficial and preventive effect of human diets that are rich in fruits and vegetables is not simply explainable on one single component of the diet.

At the same time, some proponents of lycopene as a supplement claim that it can help reduce the risk of heart disease by preventing the hardening of the arteries in the heart, they also suggest that lycopene can preventmacular degenerative disease in old people; this is a common age specific illness leading to blindness. These people also suggest that lycopene plays a role in the regulation of lipid oxidation, a chemical damage that affects normal fat molecules leading to inflammation and disease in some individuals. Lycopene has also been suggested as being capable of lowering the elevated levels of the “bad” cholesterol known as low-density lipoprotein – or LDL cholesterol. It is said to boost the functioning of theimmune system and of supporting the body defenses against pathogens. Lycopene may also protect enzymes, DNA, and cellular fats according to some proponents of this supplement. The biggest support for lycopene is for its use in treating cancers of the lung, the prostate gland, the stomach, the urinary bladder, the cervix, and the skin. Some of these claims may have a basis in fact, while other need further study and confirmation.

Based on clinical studies, some researchers are of the view that lycopene may possibly prevents the spread and slows the growth of cancerous tissues in case of prostate, lung, and stomach cancers. The researchers attribute such beneficial effects of the lycopene to its potency as an antioxidant, which are organic compounds that help blocks the action of activated oxygen molecules called free radicals which are released in the cells as a part of normal metabolism – the action of these free radicals can severely damage cells in the body. Indeed, lycopene is a very active and effective antioxidant molecule, with an activity said to be equal or double that of beta-carotene – the other well known carotenoid anti-oxidant that is also believed to be a potent cancer preventing nutrient obtainable from the diet. As nutrient, the lycopene is regarded as being one of the more effective of the antioxidant compounds as it does not undergo chemical conversion to vitamin A in the body, following its consumption. The chemical conversion of beta-carotene to vitamin A limits its use as an antioxidant compound.

The highest levels of dietary lycopene are found principally in tomatoes; however, other fruits also contain high levels of the compound includingguava, apricots, watermelons, papayas, and pink grapefruit. As tomatoes are readily available and often used as food, they are best food source for lycopene – tomatoes are also cheaper than other costly fruits. In clinical studies it has been confirmed that the lycopene levels in the blood were higher in the blood of people who consumed cooked tomatoes than in the body of those who consumed raw tomatoes or drank tomato juice alone. What this result suggests is that dietary tomato sauce or paste might be the ideal source for the lycopene contained in tomatoes than the consumption of raw tomatoes itself. In most health food stores, the supplements of lycopene are sold in the form of soft gel capsule supplements. The dosages of lycopene differ and different manufacturers may give different dosage regimens in the product label.

The proof that diets high in lycopene leads to a reduced incidence of cancer has come from the long term scientific observation of the nutritional pattern of groups of individuals from many countries across the world. In these populations, a diet high in tomato products translated into high levels of lycopene in the blood is associated with the lowest chance of developing certain cancers. These nutritional studies all suggests that in general diets that are rich in tomatoes might be the possible reason for the reduction in the risks of developing several different kinds of cancer across any population.

Lycopene may also possibly have a beneficial protective effect against the chance of cancers of the cervix and breast in women, and cancers of the mouth, the pancreas, the esophagus, as well as those of the colon, and the rectum in men and women.

Tomatoes in the diet have been linked to lowered risk for prostate cancer in some nutritional studies that observed large groups of people – this is said to be due to the diet high in lycopene from the tomato based foods taken in the diet. This connection between tomato based foods and lowering of prostate cancer risk is disputed by the other researchers, however, in these studies some researchers have found no concrete link between the consumption of large amounts of tomato based food products and a lowering in prostate cancer risk. There may be a genetic factor behind all this, as the results from one recent study show. These results suggests that the form or variation in a particular gene called XRCC1, which codes for proteins that helps repair damaged DNA damage influences the effectiveness of lycopene. This gene may be affecting the chances of whether a high intake of lycopene will influence the risk of prostate cancer in men.

Lycopene in itself may not be the sole agent in tomatoes that lowers the risk for cancer. Many other important nutrients such as vitamins, the mineral potassium, pigments like the carotenoids, and other classes of antioxidants, and many other beneficial compounds are found in tomatoes, these acting alone or affecting a combined effect with the lycopene, may be the agent or agents that induce the protective effects attributed solely to lycopene by some researchers. In studies in which the researchers have analyzed the dietary habits of large groups of people all with varied lifestyles and habits, it might be the case that also the effect in lowered cancer risk attributed to certain diets is induced in fact, by other factors that were never examined in the study.

In a scientific review of a study published in 2004, it was stated that in a study in which eleven observational and ten cases control studies were analyzed, it did seem that tomato based products give a weak but protective effect over the chance of prostate cancer – this results in a lowered risk of prostate cancer according to the conclusion based on the study. It is important to state here, that this analysis of the study results did not involve the use of any lycopene supplements whatsoever, only tomato and tomato based food products were utilized. However, lycopene levels in the blood were indeed considered in some of the individual studies. In the review, the analyst suggested that the protective effect was indeed somewhat stronger when cooked tomato products were consumed. It was also noted that the addition of small quantities of fat improved the absorption of lycopene in the body.

In fact, the role of lycopene possibly preventing or treating cancers completely has been investigated in a few experimental studies. In one of these experiments, animals given supplements of lycopene displayed reductions in the growth rate of induced brain tumors – this is a significant result. Administration of high doses of lycopene to test mice studied in another experimental study showed that the high levels of lycopene in the body of the animal led to the suppression of induced breast tumor growth to a very significant extent. The insight gained from this particular study may not be applicable to human disease states, as at least ninety five percent of all the human breast cancers cases are different to the form of breast cancers seen in mice and other mammals.

In addition, supplements of lycopene have been shown to actively suppress the growth of a variety of human cancer cell lines under laboratory conditions. This ability of lycopene to interfere and disrupt cancer cell growth was particularly potent in cancers that grow in response to the insulin like growth factor I – a growth factor in mammals. Therefore, at least in the animal and laboratory studies, lycopene has shown a certain promise for the treatment of cancer. However, its application to human cancers requires further studies and long term testing, before it can be used on humans.

In one test, to assess the fact about lycopene as the principal cancer fighting compound in tomatoes, animals given lycopene supplements were compared to those given powdered tomatoes as a supplement. The group of laboratory rats were fed tomato powder and analytically compared to rats given just lycopene supplements over a long period of time. There was a significant lowering of risk for cancer in the rats that received tomato powder, while it was notice, that the rats administered only lycopene supplements had no more significant lowering in risk for cancers from the group that was given only powdered tomatoes.

Human tests have also been conducted to check the possibility of lycopene use in the treatment of cancer. In one particular controlled study that checked a small group of men affected by prostate cancer, it was discovered that the use of lycopene supplements seemed to result in a reduction of rapid growth in prostate cancer cells normally seen in such affected men. This result is disputed and a more recent clinical study has indicated that lycopene supplements induced no significant healing effect on prostate cancer affected men who had all failed hormone therapy as part of an earlier treatment. At any rate, human tests of this type are just in the starting stage, and it is necessary to conduct more controlled studies that test larger groups of patients, before the benefits of lycopene in dealing with cancer if any, are known. Currently, individuals with cancer are being tested in a number of smaller studies now underway to check if any tomato products or supplements lycopene can be used in treating cancer states.

Since it is a natural organic compound, there are no safety issues connected to the intake of lycopene from the consumption of fruits and vegetables. High levels of the compound are also not known to induce any significant side effects and lycopene is believed to safe for human use – unless such people are allergic to the fruit or vegetable itself. Supplemental lycopene is a different matter, though the potential side effects of such supplements if any are still not fully known due to the scarcity of reports. Lycopene and its potential side effects were studied in a group of test patients, who all received a supplement rich in tomato based lycopene at doses of fifteen mg two times every day. In these patients, the supplement induced some type of intestinal side effects including spells of nausea and vomiting, persistent diarrhea, indigestion, abdominal gas and bloating of the stomach. Therefore, lycopene supplements are comparatively safe and side effects are considered mild. Consuming large amounts of tomato based products for prolonged periods of time is also known to bring out an orange color in the skin, with no other symptoms.

If they are used during the course of a radiation or chemotherapy regimen, then antioxidant supplements may interfere with the actual killing of the cancer cells in the body – therefore, antioxidants must be avoided during such treatments. This area of research is still unclear and more studies in humans are required to find out the exact manner in which antioxidants might interfere in such cases. It is suggested, however, that supplements of vitamins, minerals, or nutrient supplements taken by cancer patients undergoing therapy must be only under medical supervision, a qualified doctor must be consulted by the patient before such supplements are used to avoid possible problems. On the other hand, fresh fruits and vegetables, which are all high in antioxidants, can be safely eaten by the patient during the radioactive or drug based chemotherapy treatment of cancer without fear of a possible interference in the treatment.