During our September support group meeting, I was munching on some cherry tomatoes when one of our girls stated, “I thought tomatoes were bad for our Endo…” Damn it. Now I have to research…AND during a camping/survival skills trip in early October, I learned that the ENTIRE tomato plant (except for the tomatoes) is poisonous! What? How amazing is that?!?
Anyway, I digress…back to research.
My first page I found digging into tomatoes and Endometriosis introduced me to a word, “lycopene.” What IS lycopene? It’s a carotenoid – a plant pigment – and specifically, lycopene is responsible for making fruits and veggies red…like TOMATOES.
In 2008, Dr. Tarek Dbouk announced at the American Society of Reproductive Medicine Conference that a study found lycopene could prevent or reduce the production of a protein that promoted adhesion growth. Numerous studies claim that an increase of tomatoes and tomato products in the diet reduces chances of various cancers and cardiovascular disease (although the FDA was found very little evidence to substantiate the claims). It has been suggested that women with Endometriosis may be able to reduce their symptoms by increasing their lycopene consumption. Although studies have suggested the lycopene may act as a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory and help reduce adhesion formation, further studies are needed.
So after reading all of that, you wanna cram your fridge full of tomatoes and other red fruits and veggies right? Well…not so fast (there is always a flip side).
Tomatoes belong to a family of plants known as nightshades. Some studies have suggested that nightshades may increase inflammation or worsen symptoms of autoimmune diseases. Healthline published an extensive article on nightshades and various findings and theories on the effects of conditions or sensitivities. The author also suggests (if you suspect you may have issues with nightshades) to cut ALL nightshades out of your diet for four weeks, then reintroduce them and see how you feel: the ol’ Elimination Diet. Sounds easy? Well, here are some fruits & veggies that are nightshades:
- goji berries
- peppers (sweet, bell, chili, etc.)
- potatoes (except sweet potatoes and yams)
This also means that spices derived from those are included in the list of “avoid nightshades”: cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper, chili powder, and paprika. Um…think we’re done? Nope…think again – ketchup, marinara sauce, hot sauce, and salsa all are made from nightshade components. Not an easy task avoiding nightshades.
But are tomatoes the only source of lycopene? Nope – plenty of other fruits and veggies contain lycopene:
- asparagus (that’s not red!)
- basil (again…not red!)
- gac fruit (what is that?!?)
- goji berry (aka wolfberries; careful…it’s a nightshade)
- parsley (it’s green!)
- pink grapefruit
- pink guava
- red cabbage
- red bell peppers
- red carrots
A 2015 study tested 10 fruits and veggies in raw and processed forms to discover which had the highest lycopene content. A breakdown of the tested fruits and veggies (lowest to highest lycopene quantities) in their raw forms: watermelon, asparagus, carrot, grapefruit, gac, red cabbage, sweet peppers, papaya, tomato, and pink guava. In processed food form, the following order was determined (lowest to highest): mango juice, canned carrot juice, cherry tomato paste, watermelon juice, dried apricots, marinara sauce, sundried tomatoes, canned tomato juice, canned tomato puree, and canned tomato paste. That being said, they concluded the study by stating, ” The appropriate dose and duration of lycopene supplementation remains to be determined.” It’s been said that just 8 ounces of tomato juice a day can help increase the levels of lycopene in your system. But, but, but…TOMATOES…nightshades…Endometriosis…!!
Last night, Merritt Jones of Natural Harmony Reproductive Health taught a class on nutrition and Endometriosis and discussed nightshades and why they may be harmful to Endometriosis-sufferers and should be limited or avoided altogether. But, she also stressed finding what works best for your body, your digestion, and your symptoms.
But wait! There’s more…a flipside of the flipside! Healthline also wrote an article about nightshades and inflammation in regards to arthritis pain. Some people with arthritis who avoided nightshades did not experience any symptom relief after eliminating nightshades, so they were encouraged to continue to eat them due to the health benefits that they provide. The pros outweighed the cons for those individuals. AND, Ms. Jones informed us at last night’s class that if cutting out anti-inflammatory foods does not help reduce symptoms, you may be suffering from a bit of bad gut health, possibly even leaky gut syndrome. Always talk to your healthcare provider if things aren’t working – something else may be going on.
So now what? Tomatoes are good for you. Tomatoes are bad for you. “Tomayto, tomahto” – do your own research, try the elimination diet, see how you feel, and follow your gut (but do make sure your gut is healthy!). BUT if you do want to increase your lycopene intake, there are plenty of other options (food and supplement-wise) besides tomatoes. And, as always, please talk to your healthcare providers before starting any new supplements.
What am I gonna do? Man, I love me some tomatoes. I have a little carton of them on my desk right now – delicious, cherub tomatoes. I really don’t know what I’m going to do. So, that means I’ll likely do my best to cut them out (and other nightshades) to see if I notice a difference in how I feel – and decide after I reintroduce them back into my diet.
But what about you? What are you going to do? Or what have you already done – and did it make a difference? I’d love to hear about it…drop me a comment below.
(Updated March 27, 2019)
Annual Review of Food Science and Technology (Manuscript; 2010) – An Update on the Health Effects of Tomato Lycopene
Canadian Medical Association Journal (Article; Sept. 2000) Tomato Lycopene and Its Role in Human Health and Chronic Diseases
Daily Mail – Eating Tomatoes Could Help Fight a Painful Womb Condition that Affects 2 Million Women in UK
Dr. Weil – Tomatoes for Endometriosis?
Healthline (Article; June 2017) – Are Nightshades Bad for You?
Healthline (Article; March 2017) – Nightshade Vegetables and Inflammation: Can They Help with Arthritis Symptoms?
Journal of Basic Sciences – (Article, 2015) – Evaluation of Lycopene Contents from Various Fruits and Processed Food
Journal of the Natural Cancer Institute – (Article; July 2007) – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Evidence-Based Review for Qualified Health Claims: Tomatoes, Lycopene, and Cancer
Journal of the Society of Laparoendoscopic Surgeons – (Article; Apr-Jun 2007) Patients with Chronic Pelvic Pain: Endometriosis or Interstitial Cystitis/Painful Bladder Syndrome?
LiveScience– (Article, Oct. 2015) – What are Carotenoids?
Livestrong – (Article; Oct. 2017) – List of Nightshade Vegetables & Fruits
~ Again, I am a layman. I do not hold any college degrees, nor mastery of knowledge. Please take what I say with a grain of salt. If curious, do your own research 😉 Validate my writings. Or challenge them. And ALWAYS feel free to consult with your physician. Always. Yours ~ Lisa