An antioxidant present in tomatoes can help treat common causes of abdominal pain such as internal scarring after surgery and endometriosis, a study has shown.
Endometriosis is a common medical condition characterized by growth beyond or outside the uterus of tissue resembling endometrium, the tissue that normally lines the uterus.
According to a study of cells in culture, lycopene, the bright red pigment that gives tomatoes their characteristic colour, can inhibit proteins that are linked to the formation of abnormal patches of tissue called adhesions, reports Times Online.
Although the findings are very preliminary, the research hints that a diet rich in tomatoes and tomato products, or supplements containing lycopene, might be a promising way of controlling adhesions.
Adhesions are basically patches of scar tissue or fibrous strands that form on internal surfaces in the abdomen, often connecting two organs or parts of organs together.
Besides being a common side effect of surgery, they also occur in endometriosis, a condition in which tissue that normally lines the womb grows in other parts of the abdomen.
These growths can cause pain, bowel obstructions, bladder problems and infertility.
Tarek Dbouk, of Wayne State University in Detroit, investigated lycopene because of its antioxidant properties.
The chemical, which is particularly abundant in cooked tomato products such as ketchup and pasta sauces, is already thought to have protective effects against cardiovascular disease and some cancers.
To rweach the conclusion, Dr Dbouk exposed human cells to lycopene in the laboratory, and measured its effect on proteins that serve as markers for adhesion formation. Levels of these proteins were substantially reduced, by as much as 80 to 90 per cent.
Dr Dbouk told the American Society for Reproductive Medicine conference in San Francisco that the results suggest that lycopene - and tomatoes that contain it - could be useful for treating post-surgical adhesions and other conditions such as endometriosis and uterine fibroids.