Health In Focus
  • Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH) is a very common disease, which affects almost 50% men by the age of 60 years.
  • Prostate hyperplasia causes urinary problems due to blockage of the urinary tract.
  • Lycopene, an antioxidant found in tomatoes, may slow down the progression of the disease.
BPH or an enlargement of the prostate is a part of the aging process in most men and results in urinary and bladder problems as the enlarging gland surrounds the urinary tract. Tomatoes may be the new answer to men with prostate enlargement due to the presence of an antioxidant called lycopene in them. A recent review of 67 research studies, published in the journal Oncology and Cancer Care Reports, suggests the potential benefits of lycopene in slowing down the progression of enlargement of the prostate.
Tomatoes - The New Answer to Prostate Hyperplasia
Tomatoes - The New Answer to Prostate Hyperplasia

Prof. Hiten Patel of Bart's and the Royal London Hospital lead the review team. He said, "We knew lycopene seems to slow down the development of prostate cancer, but now it seems that it can slow down the enlargement of the prostate and development of BPH as well."

The review findings are in agreement with various studies previously performed on the subject of lycopene and its benefits in prostate health. Research conducted by Bristol University under Dr. Athene Lane showed that those who ate more tomatoes were at 18% risk of prostate cancer.

A study conducted in China revealed that traditional diets rich in fruits and vegetables significantly lowered BPH rates.

A study conducted at the University of Hohenheim, Germany investigated the results of lycopene supplementation in BPH patients and revealed an absence of further growth of the prostate in patients who were supplemented with 15 mg lycopene daily for 6 months while the prostate continued to grow in those who were administered a placebo (dummy pill). The levels of PSA were also found lowered after lycopene administration.

Prostate and Hyperplasia

The primary role of the prostate in men is in enhancing fertility by contributing the liquid part of the ejaculate which contains fructose, an energy source for the sperm, and PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen), a protein which increases sperm motility. The gland is present at the base of the urethra and the normal growth of prostatic cells is regulated by the growth cycle and various hormones.

With age, the cells lose their ability to respond to apoptotic (programmed cell death) signals and this results in anexcessive increase in the cell numbers and formation of extra smooth muscle tissue which results in a larger gland.

Dihydrotestosterone, a derivative of testosterone (male hormone) is also responsible for the growth of the prostate. It is formed in the body by the action of 5-alpha reductase on testosterone. Increased levels of the enzyme may cause an overgrowth of the gland.

A disruption of the testosterone and estrogen (female hormone) ratio due to age also causes the prostate to grow. Moreover, factors like Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF) and inflammatory proteins like CRP (C-Reactive Protein) are also associated with prostatic hyperplasia.

Patients suffering from BPH experience uncomfortable symptoms like need to urinate frequently, inability to empty the bladder, difficulty in initiating the act of urination and recurrent UTIs (Urinary Tract Infections). Medical management is done to slow down the progression of the disease but if symptoms become too bothersome, surgical intervention may be needed.

Role of Lycopene in BPH

Lycopene is a carotenoid that gives the tomato its red color. It has been observed in the conducted review that lycopene not only lowers the risk of prostatic cancer but also inhibits prostatic growth in general.

There are various mechanisms by which lycopene influences cell growth:
  • It promotes the production of proteins which regulate the growth cycle. Reduced sensitivity of the cells to these proteins is balanced by an increase in the number of the proteins and the growth cycle is thus regulated.
  • Lycopene also inhibits the growth of the prostate cells by reducing the quantity of cyclin D1, a protein which causes cell proliferation.
  • Lycopene also reduces the expression of 5-alpha reductase and results in lower levels of dihydrotestosterone. The reduction of local androgen signaling prevents prostatic overgrowth.
  • Lycopene also markedly reduces growth stimulated by Insulin-like Growth Factor by inhibiting IGF signaling.
Although tomatoes are a rich and easily available source of lycopene, the lycopene present in them cannot be utilized as it is bound to the tomato's cell structure. Processing and cooking of tomatoes result in the release of lycopene and causes better absorption in the human body. Tomato paste, tomato sauce and cooking tomatoes in healthy oils like olive oils are therefore more beneficial than eating raw tomatoes. Supplemental pills of lycopene like LactoLycopene are also available.

Further research is still needed to investigate the correlation before lycopene may be advised in routine but the review definitely sounds promising and opens a new door in the treatment of prostatic hyperplasia.

  1. Lycopene Inhibits Disease Progression in Patients with Benign Prostate Hyperplasia
  2. Effect of Carotene and Lycopene on the Risk of Prostate Cancer: A Systematic Review and Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies
  3. Lycopene inhibits disease progression in patients with benign prostate hyperplasia.
Source: Medindia

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