Can tomatoes protect us from alcohol’s effects?
Whether in a juice, a salad, or a sauce, studies show that tomatoes can fight off the damage we inflict on ourselves when we drink alcohol.
The effects of an evening with a few alcoholic beverages are familiar to many of us.
While moderate alcohol consumption may be beneficial to long-term health, excessive drinking certainly is not.
Tomatoes may not save you from the headache, dizziness, and bloodshot eyes that are the telltale signs of the morning after the big night out, but research shows that tomatoes can shield your brain and liver from the havoc that alcohol wreaks on these organs.
Tomatoes reduce damage in the liver
On standard drink in the United States contains 14 grams of alcohol. This is equivalent to 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirit, such as vodka containing 40 percent alcohol.
Enzymes in the liver break down the alcohol that we drink. This causes oxidative damage to liver cells and widespread inflammation.
Dr. Xiang-Dong Wang – director of the nutrition and cancer biology laboratory at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston, MA – and his team tested the effect of tomatoes on rats exposed to alcohol.
The experiments used the equivalent of 100 grams of alcohol consumption, which is approximately 7 standard alcoholic drinks, daily for 4 weeks. This mimics chronic, excessive alcohol intake in humans.
Three different tomato products were tested:
- tomato powder, which is nutritionally equivalent to whole tomato
- tomato extract, which contains only fat-soluble components
- purified lycopene, which is the red pigment that gives tomatoes their color and a known antioxidant
Tomato powder, but not extract or purified lycopene, reduced the effects of alcohol damage in over 90 percent of the rats.
These results are in line with the team’s earlier findings that lycopene on its own does not prevent liver damage but points to whole tomatoes being the key.
However, the liver is not the only organ affected by the alcohol that we drink.
Lycopene can prevent moderate damage
Whether alcohol is good for long-term health or not, even modest intake causes damage to brain cells. Oxidative damage and inflammation are once again thought to be the culprits. Could tomatoes come to the rescue?
Ross Grant, a clinical associate professor of medicine at the University of Sydney in Australia, and his research team showed that the equivalent of two standard alcoholic drinks caused DNA damage to brain cells within 15 minutes.
But treating such cells with lycopene for 3.5 hours before exposing them to alcohol significantly reduced the damage.
Interestingly, purified lycopene was protective to brain cells, while whole tomatoes were needed to see similar effects in the liver.
How many tomatoes are needed?
In Dr. Wang’s study, the team used tomato powder at a concentration equal to a 70-kilogram man consuming 12.46 milligrams of lycopene per day. The average intake in the U.S. is around 9.4 milligrams per day.
But the authors explain that levels such as the one used in their study are easily achievable by “eating four medium-sized tomatoes” or “one third of a cup of tomato sauce” daily.
The best way to avoid the damaging effects of alcohol is, of course, to abstain from drinking it.
However, should you wish to indulge in a drink or two, a daily dose of tomatoes certainly seems to go some way toward protecting your brain and liver – whichever method of consumption you choose.