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Jewish World Review Feb. 26, 2002 / 14 Adar, 5762

Dr. Ed Blonz

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Consumer Reports

Tomato effects on men; impact of taking all of those tablets -- Dear Dr. Blonz: Today, many of us who are getting up there are taking several prescription drugs plus all of the so-called natural supplements. What's the sum total effect, or effects, of all these various substances? I have not been able to locate a source whereby one can input all that he is taking to see how it may interact. Both of my medical doctors haven't a clue, but would also like to know of a source. A number of the major pharmacies can process this info, but only as it relates to prescription drugs. Throw in glucosamine, calcium, MSM, chondroitin, MetamusilR, and maybe others like St. John's Wort, Milkweed thistle, skullcap, etc.-- and it seems like no one knows! Your thoughts? Thanks. R.R. -- (via email)

Dear R.R.: I have to report that at this point it is all a bit of a crapshoot. When prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications come to the marketplace, they have to go through an intensive screening by the Food and Drug Administration, checking for safety, efficacy and potential interactions. Such is not the case with dietary supplements. In today's lax regulatory environment, what we have is a host of ongoing laboratory experiments where we are the guinea pigs.

To be sure, not every combination is going to cause problems, and many might be helpful, but no one can deny that the risk is there. There are also risks with prescription and OTC medicines, but at least these have been tested and there is some assurance that what's on the label is in the bottle.

Consider that medications as well as "natural supplements" need to be metabolized and eliminated from the body. When multiple items are in need of processing, it can affect the body's ability and result in higher (or lower) than normal blood levels. This, in turn, can lead to untoward physiological effects. Matters become even more complicated when other supplements, prescription medications, pre-existing health conditions, alcohol and who knows what else are also on the scene. I am not saying that all supplements should be avoided, but we are now at a time where more responsibility falls upon us, the consumer. Think of this as a growing city without stop signs or stop lights, where they wait for the accidents to see where the controls belong. My advice is to learn as much as you can, and watch out for those intersections.

Dear Dr. Blonz:: I keep reading how wonderful tomatoes are -- particularly for men -- as they contain lycopene, which I believe has been shown to improve prostate health. I know that cooked tomatoes contain more lycopene than raw, and it is recommended that men consume tomatoes that are cooked such as sauce with pasta or on pizza. My husband likes sun-dried tomatoes. He does not eat raw tomatoes and rarely has red sauce. What is the comparable vitamin and mineral content of sun-dried versus fresh tomatoes? Thank you. J.S. -- Sacramento, Calif.

Dear J.S.: Sun-drying reduces vitamins C and A, and, to a lesser degree, some of the other vitamins, -- but, the mineral content will be comparable. As for the lycopene, it helps to understand that cooked tomatoes don't contain any more lycopene than fresh. The lycopene is chemically bound inside the plant cell matrix of the fresh tomato. The cooking process breaks the bond, thus making the lycopene more bio-available (absorbed with greater efficiency).

Sun-drying isn't the same as cooking, but from the standpoint of lycopene absorption, it's probably better than having fresh. When the water is removed, the cells do shrink and they can break, especially if heat is used during the drying process. I would say that your husband should go ahead and enjoy his sun-dried tomatoes, but be sure to give them a good chew. If you happen to have a dab of olive oil (or any other oil) at the same time, then all the better. Lycopene, similar to other carotenoids, is fat-soluble. so oil helps with absorption.

JWR contributor Ed Blonz, Ph.D., is a nutrition scientist and author of Power Nutrition and the "Your Personal Nutritionist" book series. Send questions to him by clicking here.


02/19/02: Is decaf dangerous?
02/12/02: Do veggies prevent mineral absorption?
02/05/02: Incompatibility problems between calcium and vitamin C; Can supplements prevent blindness?
01/29/02: What's wrong with the meat?; Does tuna packed in water still have high levels of omega-3?; Avoid "fractionated vegetable oils?"
01/22/02: Is all soy milk created equal?; foods containing magnesium; why do vitamins expire?
01/15/02: Three cheers for chocolate?
01/08/02: Making sense of labels
01/03/02: "Thermogenic" weight loss
12/26/01: What's up with ephedra?
12/18/01: Is new supplement a scam?

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