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Dr. William Li presents to ASPI: Of lycopene, tangerine tomatoes, angiogenesis and lots more

Your diet can impact your prostate cancer, William Li, MD, told an audience of almost 400 at a webinar, “Eat to Beat Prostate Disease,” presented by Active Surveillance Patients International on July 30.

Li, bestselling author of “Eat to Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself,” said that what we eat affects our health, focusing his talk on prostate health.

Li is known for promoting food as medicine. “What we eat matters when it comes to our prostate health,” he said.

Sure, eating cruciferous veggies, such as broccoli and cauliflower, and fruit is a great idea in general.

But he cited a study by Harvard researchers appearing in the International Journal of Cancer that looked at a large population and focused on the association between consuming these foods and health outcomes.

“They found a statistically significant, 59% reduction, in the risk of prostate cancer progression. This is in prevention of prostate cancer,” he said.

Li said: “When you see this, you can get a news headline that says ‘Broccoli fights prostate cancer.” It’s more complicated than that. This is actually a discovery that puts a hypothesis up that says something that we’re doing might be beneficial for men with prostate cancer, in fact, perhaps from preventing the prostate cancer from progressing. Researchers need to dive in there and try to figure out why, how much, what is the correlation, is it safe?”

He urged caution in reading news headlines hyping some nutritional factors in preventing and curing cancers.

I warn my grad students at Northwestern University’s famous Medill School against stories promising breakthroughs. Breakthroughs are few and far between. Journalists and their editors must be careful not to mislead their audiences.

The late Victor Cohn, the dean of American medical journalists from the Washington Post, created Cohn’s law which goes like this: “There are two types of headlines on medical articles: New cure. No cure.”

So we should all read everything, including this article, with a grain of salt–even those of us on low-salt diets. (Joke.)

Li’s research over the years has focused on angiogenesis. the process of stopping the unwanted growth of new blood vessels that feed cancers.

Cancer cells are commonly present in all of our bodies. But they can’t grow into tumors without hooking up a blood supply. Angiogenesis inhibitors in plant foods may help prevent this from happening.

Li, head of the Angiogenesis Foundation, has focused his research on using food to prevent cancers from growing..

Many of us with prostate cancer have encountered the nutritional chemical lycopene. William “Lycopene” Li is a fan. Big-time.

The rap on lycopene is it is red carotenoid pigment present in tomatoes and many berries and fruits. Lycopene helps provide color to the skin of tomatoes. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that might help protect cells from damage.

Li, an engaging speaker,  spoke a lot about lycopene and tomatoes, including offering some very specific recommendations.

He said, “Tomatoes have been well known to be beneficial to prostate cancer. I want to give you my take on it. There’s an urban legend right now that tomatoes are nightshades along with eggplants, stay away from nightshades. They contain anti-nutrients. Totally bunk.”

He emphasized the importance of lycopene found in the skin of tomatoes in helping to prevent prostate cancer.

But there’s a problem–lycopene in tomato skin is not readily bioavailable.

Li said if you pick a tomato like an apple and eat it, it tastes great and provides Vitamin C.  But only 20% of the lycopene is available in a raw tomato, he noted

The lycopene secret is in the sauce. Agreat lycopene source is a nice tomato sauce.

The 1950s ad for Franco-American Spaghetti with Meatballs said it best: “La Sauce C’est Tout.” The sauce is eveything, right? (Franco-American itself was nothing to write home about.)

Li explained there is even science looking at how long to prepare the sauce. “You take a tomato. You simmer it, 190 degrees Fahrenheit. You’ll shift 50% of the chemicals in two minutes. You’ll amplify the amount of absorbable, like 250%. You concentrate it within the volume, if you simmer it for 30 minutes.”

Li also stressed that “not all tomatoes” are equal.

(Tangerine tomatoes are the king of lycopene.)

“What tomatoes have the highest levels of lycopene? When I go, in the summertime, to the market or grocery store, I’m overwhelmed by the varieties of tomatoes. There are heirlooms, there are Roma tomatoes. What do I want to get?” he said

“When I’m thinking about my prostate, I happen to know that these four tomatoes are high in lycopene. San Marzano  omatoes from Italy. Not just the fresh ones, even the canned ones or paste! Cherry tomatoes have the same amount of lycopene as a regular big tomato concentrated in a smaller package. The tangerine tomato – you don’t need to cook it. It already has the lycopene transformed. And a black tomato – these dark tomatoes actually already have a ton of lycopene and other bioactives in them as well. This is what I choose when I go to buy.”

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