Antioxidant found in tomatoes may reduce risk of osteoporosis

Researchers from the National Center for Food Safety and Technology and the Illinois Institute of Technology have affirmed that tomatoes are the richest natural source of lycopene, an antioxidant thought to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and certain cancers.

The study, which appears in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, stated that tomatoes are the most widely consumed vegetable in the average American's diet. The authors noted that after cooking, the fruit's lycopene content is also more easily absorbed by the body.

Both authors are also employed by ConAgra Foods, a large-scale U.S. food distributor. While this may indicate some conflict of interest underlying the study, it does not invalidate the findings relating to lycopene and osteoporosis.

Lycopene is a form of carotene; as in other fruits and vegetables, it gives tomatoes their red color. Besides being a pigmentation molecule, the compound has been associated with a lower risk of heart disease and certain carcinomas.

A number of scientific investigations have also been conducted into the role lycopene plays in reducing bone loss. Many found that the antioxidant appears to be a valuable nutrient for the dietary prevention of osteoporosis.

Data published in a 2010 issue of the journal Osteoporosis International indicate that consuming 30 milligrams of lycopene per day - the equivalent of two glasses of tomato juice - may reduce the postmenopausal risk of osteoporosis.

Researchers gave women between the ages of 50 and 60 lycopene supplements for four months, after which they found that these participants had lower levels of bone resorption markers in their blood.

Another study, this one in the Journal of Medicinal Food, offered a potential explanation for this effect. Researchers at the University of Toronto found that the presence of lycopene inhibited the formation of osteoclasts, which are specialized cells that break down minerals.

Besides eating tomatoes, individuals at risk for osteoporosis should consider consuming enough vitamin D and calcium, abstaining from excess alcohol and engaging in regular weight lifting exercises, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.