Their smell is delicious and inviting. Vine-ripened tomatoes sitting on my kitchen bench. They will go into my Italian Tomato Sauce later – women on my programme know that tomatoes are rich in a compound called Lycopene and one cup (240mL) of tomato juice provides approximately 23mg of lycopene. Cooking tomatoes is best, because heat transforms natural lycopene to a form that is easier to utilize by the human body.
“I loved all the food ideas” said Chris to me in an email last week, “I’ve gone from 71kg down to 63kg (11st 3lb to 9st 13lb in UK terms) and it feels great. It also wasn’t really that hard and I love how my hot flushes are reduced and my sleep is so much better. What is the best thing that I took out of this programme though, was that I’m back to eating what my body needs and wants – not what my teenage boys demand. I feel amazing now.”
I’ve often talked about the changes in our liver health as we move through menopause in my articles. I also mention it in my Masterclass on Menopause which I hope you can listen to sometime. Understanding that liver and gallbladder detoxification pathways respond only to certain foods (and not all the smoothies that you see advertised), was a key part of my own weight loss, as it is for women who join me on my Transform Me weight loss programme. One of the compounds that come in foods that help our liver to ‘detoxify’ is a compound called lycopene.
I’m sure that you know that Lycopene is a naturally occurring compound that contributes to the red colour of fruits and vegetables. But it’s what the lycopene does inside our body that women’s health and ageing scientists are discovering, that is helpful for all of us to know.
Lycopene is a carotenoid antioxidant – these are compounds which help to reduce inflammation inside our cells and tissues. This type of inflammation is known as oxidative stress. Plants which grow above ground and conduct photosynthesis are generally rich in carotenoids. We need these in our diet to be sent to our blood and tissues, especially to our liver (hepatic) and fat cell because as humans, we don’t make carotenoids but they play an important role in the production of retinol (vitamin A) and of course, in cell protection.
Which brings me to lycopene in tomatoes and other vegetables and red coloured fruits.
Lycopene plays and incredible role in weight loss, hot flush management, heart health, improved bone density in post-menopause and for those of you who struggle with your liver health, then it is now known to help in the modulation of detoxification pathways. In other words, if you really want to help your liver to detoxify and clear excess cholesterol and other harmful substances (including excess oestrogen), then stop taking endless supplements and drinking thick, fat and protein enriched smoothies and cook up some tomatoes instead. (Hodges & Minich, 2013; Tokac et al, 2015; Walallawita et al, 2020; Wilcox et al, 2003).
Lycopene is found in high amounts in tomatoes but is also present in watermelons, pink grapefruits, apricots, and pink guavas. The bioavailability of lycopene is higher in processed tomato products than in unprocessed fresh tomatoes, so grill them, add them to sauces or make soup or drink tomato juice. Just be aware that lycopene bioavailability is also affected by processing methods and storage. Improper processing methods, handling, and storage (i.e., exposure to light and oxygen) can degrade lycopene too.
When we provide lycopene in our diet, this valuable compound is stored and used in high concentrations in the liver, adrenal glands, and adipose (fat) tissues. It’s role in these organs is to help to reduce damage from oxidative stress and tissue injury.
Accumulation of excess fat in liver cells and adipose tissue is cited among the major reasons behind tissue dysfunction (Tokac, Aydin et al, (2015). When this happens it can lead to increased weight, poor gallbladder health called Cholestasis. Some of you might have heard this term if you have had gallbladder problems, because Cholestasis is a liver disease. It occurs when the flow of bile from your liver is reduced or blocked. Bile is fluid produced by your liver that aids in the digestion of food, especially fats. When bile flow is altered, it can lead to a buildup of bilirubin. When this happens we can also put on weight (belly fat), feel bloated and/or develop a condition called metabolic syndrome. This refers to a cocktail of health problems such as hypertension, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes, which often arrive in menopause and are often accompanied by poor liver function.
Increasing our Lycopene intake is just one way to restore tired, overworked, inflamed liver cells.
It’s an important nutrient to include in your diet, not only for menopause weight loss, but also for helping to detoxify the liver. When my own weight reached an all-time high as I went into menopause, I was on all sorts of supplements and HRT. But that wasn’t what my ageing liver needed. It needed some lycopene enriched tomatoes instead.
Middle-aged women are not only bothered by the physical and psychological symptoms of menopause, but are also at increased risk for cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), such as central obesity, hypertension, dyslipidemia, and diabetes, which, yes, are partly induced as a result of diminished oestrogen production, but as women on my 12 week programmes are also finding, these diseases are also the result of our lifestyle.
And by following the correct evidence for changing our lifestyle to better match our health needs during our menopause transition, we can turn around our mid-life health, including our symptoms and weight.
I hope you can explore my 12 week weight loss programme called Transform Me and perhaps join me when you can – especially if you made that New Year resolution to turn around your mid-life health, but you haven’t quite got on board with the changes you hoped to make.
Fiedor, J., & Burda, K. (2014). Potential role of carotenoids as antioxidants in human health and disease. Nutrients, 6(2), 466–488. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu6020466
Hirose, A., Terauchi, M., Tamura, M., Akiyoshi, M., Owa, Y., Kato, K., & Kubota, T. (2015). Tomato juice intake increases resting energy expenditure and improves hypertriglyceridemia in middle-aged women: an open-label, single-arm study. Nutrition journal, 14, 34. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12937-015-0021-4.
Hodges R. & Minich D. (2015). Modulation of Metabolic Detoxification Pathways Using Foods and Food-Derived Components: A Scientific Review with Clinical Application. J Nutr Metab. Vol. 2015, 760689. doi: 10.1155/2015/760689. Epub 2015 Jun 16. PMID: 26167297; PMCID: PMC4488002.
Patel, V., Rajendram, R. Preedy, V. (2018). The Liver, Academic Press. 155-167, ISBN 9780128039519
Tokaç M., Aydin S., Taner G., et al. (2015). Hepatoprotective and antioxidant effects of lycopene in acute cholestasis. Turk J Med Sci. 45(4):857-64. doi: 10.3906/sag-1404-57. PMID: 26422858.
Walallawita, U., Wolber, F., Ziv-Gal, A., Kruger, M., & Heyes, J. (2020). Potential Role of Lycopene in the Prevention of Postmenopausal Bone Loss: Evidence from Molecular to Clinical Studies. International journal of molecular sciences, 21(19), 7119. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms21197119
Willcox J., Catignani G., Lazarus S. (2003). Tomatoes and cardiovascular health. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 43(1):1-18. doi: 10.1080/10408690390826437. PMID: 12587984