Do Purple Tomatoes Prevent Cancer?

My very close friend just went through a phase of breast cancer treatment, and this led me to research some options myself, just so one could prevent yourself from falling victim to the threat of this deadly disease. You must have heard about Purple Tomatoes - a new breed of specially engineered tomatoes that are supposed to be very high in antioxidants, thereby helping to prevent cancer. Since past few days, it has been a topic of extreme research and speculation. Medicine has always tried to find something to fight the war against cancer, and if edible foods like Tomatoes can help prevent it, or at least slow down its harmful effects, I think its worth a serious thought! So what are Purple Tomatoes, and can they really Prevent Cancer? [Image Credit: John Innes Centre]

The Experiments
As quoted in a recent article in WebMD, "Scientists in Europe transferred certain genes of snapdragons to tomatoes, creating a tomato with a dark purple color and loads of antioxidants. The purple color is due to injection of "anthocyanins", which belong to the flavonoid class of antioxidants. Researchers tested the tomatoes on cancer-prone mice; they found that a diet supplemented by purple tomato powder increased the life span of the mice compared to mice eating a standard diet or a diet supplemented with red tomato powder." The results of this study, conducted by Eugenio Butelli of the John Innes Centre in England and colleagues from Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands, were published in Nature Biotechnology.

For the research experiments, there were three groups of mutant mice, all prone to cancer. These mice typically get tumors and die young. The first group ate a standard diet. The second group ate a powder taken from freeze-dried regular, red tomatoes. The third group ate powder from freeze-dried dark purple tomatoes.

The dark purple tomato group lived an average of 182 days, compared to 142 for the standard diet group and 146 days for the red tomato group. The maximum life span of mice who ate the standard diet was 211 days; the maximum life span of mice with the diet supplemented with purple tomato was 260 days.

Why the Difference in Results?
The engineered tomatoes were richer in anthocyanins, which are pigments produced by plants. They are common in grapes, blackberries, blueberries, and other fruits, all rich in antioxidants. As per a recent BBC News article, "Research has suggested that anthocyanins are potent antioxidants and may provide a variety of health benefits - have been shown to help significantly slow the growth of colon cancer cells. They are also thought to offer protection against cardiovascular disease and age-related degenerative diseases, and there is also evidence that the pigments have anti-inflammatory properties, help boost eyesight, and may help stave off obesity and diabetes."

The Doubts
As quoted by Professor Martin at the research center, "This is one of the first examples of metabolic engineering that offers the potential to promote health through diet by reducing the impact of chronic disease." However, these tests have only been conducted on mice, however, it would be wrong to assume the effects seen in mice would necessarily occur in humans too! So the next step would be to try these tests on humans, and see the reactions and effects. And so, doubts prevail whether this can be a sure-shot way to prevent the boon of cancer. "It is too early to say whether anthocyanins obtained through diet could help to reduce the risk of cancer", says Dr Lara Bennett, from the Cancer Research UK.

The Conclusion
From all that I have read via various sources, I can conclude that though the results have been optimistic on mice, same cannot be said for humans. The researchers have clarified that this is merely a "Pilot-Test", "a preliminary study useful to validate the hypothesis of obtaining health benefits from diet supplementation with modified food. Although mice's lifespan has significantly increased once fed on purple tomatoes we still don't know how it works. It is not likely everything can be explained on antioxidants basis alone. Moreover, we have to consider that in this study we have not taken into account any possible toxicity so I shall say we're far from considering a human trial".

But I think this is indeed a first step in the right direction. The technology offers great scope for altering colors of fruits and vegetables, and their content of potentially health-protective compounds by using Genetic Enginnering. It helps to Go Organic most of the times, but if a simple mutation helps accentuate the good contained in natural foods, it is a path that we should definitely explore! As long as we remember that the war against Cancer and Diseases is a long one, and there's miles to go before we achieve something that is safe and effective!

Have you heard about this? What do you think? Do you support it, or are you against it? Please share your thoughts about Purple Tomatoes & Cancer with our readers, as the more information we have, the better decisions we can take!

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Vanamala said...

Good one

Rupa said...

This is an interesting, thought provoking article. I am all for foods that help fight disease. My only apprehension comes from genetically engineered foods of any kind, I am still skeptical of them. They have not been around long enough to have been thoroughly studied and who knows what negative impact GMO foods may have in the long run. I feel that we have gotten away from pure, organic foods that we know are healthy and prevent diseases in the first place since pesticides/herbicides are usually carcinogenic/toxic. If we can't go back to the old ways of healthy life style, I guess this is the next best thing..

Alka said...

I personally wud be hesitant to use genetically altered food,until proved positively for its benefits.
But nevertheless nice info ,and gr8 attempt to keep us updated on new Food revolutions!Thnaks for the efforts !

Uma said...

never saw purple tomatoes before! thanks for the useful info Mansi! Have a great weekend and a happy halloween!

Mallika said...

I read about that in the papers here. But I have to say I am deeply suspicious of nature that's been messed around with...

mitr_bayarea said...


as usual great info on foods that prevent diseases and the like.

Mansi said...

thanks for your feedback and input friends. your honest opinions are always respected and welcomed! Genetically engineered foods have always been hard to trust, but I'm hoping they can come up with something safe that can help fight fatal diseases like cancer...

Archana said...

PURPLE TOMATOES. If only Indian newspapers will give more focus to food and GE food:). This is news to me. Now googling on it. Thanks Mansi.