A Tomato a Day Reverses a Precancerous Mouth Condition
Taking the antioxidant lycopene can reduce symptoms of or even reverse a mouth condition called oral leukoplakia, reports a study in Oral Oncology (2004;40:591–6). This study found that lycopene reduces the size of mouth plaques and reverses the precancerous cell changes associated with oral leukoplakia.
Oral leukoplakia is a precancerous condition of the inside of the mouth characterized by white patches or plaques that cannot be scraped away. These plaques most commonly occur on the inside of the cheeks, but can also appear on the gums, tongue, palate, and inside of lips. People who use tobacco products such as cigarettes or chewing tobacco have the highest risk of developing this condition. Studies have found that people who eat large amounts of tomatoes and tomato-based foods are less likely to have oral leukoplakia, and have a lower risk of developing some cancers, including cancers of the mouth, larynx (voice box), throat, and esophagus. The cancer-protective effect of tomato is attributed to its high content of the red-colored antioxidant lycopene.
In the current study, 58 people with oral leukoplakia were randomly assigned to one of three treatment groups: group A received 8 mg of lycopene each day for three months; group B received 4 mg of lycopene each day; and, group C received an inert pill (placebo). People in all groups were examined and patches of leukoplakia were measured every seven to ten days during the treatment period. Biopsies to evaluate the degree of precancerous changes in the cells were performed at the beginning and end of this period. A complete response, defined as the absence of visible plaques for at least four weeks, was observed in 55% of the people in group A, 25% of those in group B, and 0% of those in group C. The average overall improvement was 80% in group A, 66% in group B, and 12% in group C. A review of the biopsy samples confirmed that both doses of lycopene were effective, though the higher dose was more effective than the lower.
This study shows that taking lycopene can reverse precancerous cell changes and reduce plaques in people with oral leukoplakia. A daily dose of 8 mg was more effective than 4 mg. (A five-ounce tomato contains approximately 8 mg of lycopene.) Studies have shown that the lycopene in tomato paste can be absorbed by the body more efficiently than the lycopene in raw tomatoes or tomato juice. Lycopene is also available as a nutritional supplement and in foods besides tomatoes (such as watermelon and pink grapefruit), but it is unknown whether lycopene from other sources will have the same benefit for oral leukoplakia.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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