A super ingredient in tomatoes already dubbed the ‘elixir of life’ has been found to have yet another health benefit – stopping men getting up in the night to spend a penny.
Lycopene – an antioxidant that gives tomatos their red colour – has been identified as preventing cardiovascular disease and stroke and reducing prostate cancer in men.
New research has shown that it also reduces age-related enlargement of the prostate and pressure on the bladder – helping stop the need to wee in the small hours.
The discovery has emerged at the University of Queensland in Australia which investigated the benefit of lycopene in combination with other natural compounds.
A total of 57 men aged between 40 and 80, took part in the three-month study which compared the active compounds to an identical dummy pill.
Volunteers did not know if they were receiving the active treatment or the dummy pills.
The number of night-time visits to the loo was reduced by more than a third and overall bladder function was substantially improved.
Evidence has been growing for the benefits of a recently launched British nutraceutical called Ateronon which contains a bio-engineered version of lycopene.
Until now the capsules – made to pharmacuetical rather than food supplement standards – have been aimed principally at improving heart health.
Research on Ateronon presented by Cambridge University scientists at the prestigious American Heart Association showed it had a unique effect in improving blood vessel flexibility and reducing hardening of the arteries.
Ian Wilkinson,director of Cambridge University clinical trials unit, is confident that similar benefits will be shown in reducing risk of prostate cancer, as well as preventing the advance of the disease in men who have already been diagnosed.
“We think Ateronon could be more beneficial than natural lycopene as a prostate treatment because of the fact it is more easily absorbed by the human body,” Wilkinson said.
“We are in the process of designing a trial to prove that.”
Luis Vitetta, director of the University’s Centre for Integrative Clinical and Molecular Medicine, believes other ‘nutraceuticals’ – natural compounds with medicinal properties, may also be involved in the beneficial effect, which reduces the symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH.
He said, “Lycopene has a similar chemical structure to finasteride, the main drug used to treat BPH, and that may be the reason for the effect.”
A second newly-published study by the University of Illinois in Chicago has shown activity of beneficial proteins in prostate cells was boosted when were exposed to lycopene.
Richard van Breemen, who leads the Chicago team, said: ”I would love to see real support for a ten-year, multi-centre study to prove the benefits of lycopene.
“I have been working on lycopene since 1989, and there just isn’t enough interest in cancer prevention.
“The effect of lycopene is not rapid or dramatic, and you need a long-term study to show it works.”