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brady tomoatoAs an avid New York sports fan, I love a good Tom Brady controversy. Many of these controversies are ridiculous and take up too much time during actual news broadcasts (read: deflategate), but other Brady controversies should be taken seriously, including each and every ridiculous haircut he sports. (Remember the Hugh Grant phase?) The latest controversy surrounding Tom Brady combines 2 of my favorite things: ridiculous Tom Brady stories and science.

Let’s talk about the Tom Brady diet. On January 4th the Boston Globe ran a piece on the chef who decides what Tom Brady eats. Chef Allen Campbell chooses a plant-based, organic, GMO-free, sugar-free, caffeine-free, flour-free, pepper-free, mushroom-free, tomato-free, and dairy-free diet for the Brady family. In this article, Campbell makes so many scientifically unsound statements to defend this diet, but one of his statements stood out to me:

“I’m very cautious about tomatoes. They cause inflammation”.

As an immunologist, I feel the overwhelming need to address the frivolous use of the word inflammation. Inflammation is a biological process, which occurs when immune cells migrate to a specific tissue in response to a harmful stimulus, such as an infection or physical injury. This inflammatory response can kill invading pathogens and repair tissue injuries. The inflammatory response elicited by a bacterial infection is the same inflammatory response elicited during a physical injury, like when you are sacked by Justin Tuck in your own end zone on the first play of the Super Bowl.

During an inflammatory response, immune cells are directed to the site of infection or injury by proteins called pro-inflammatory cytokines. Sometimes pro-inflammatory cytokines signal in the absence of a harmful stimulus, which can cause chronic inflammation and autoimmune disease. However, and I cannot stress this enough, tomatoes do not cause chronic inflammation. In fact, the consumption of tomato products has actually been linked to a decrease in chronic inflammation.

Extracts from tomatoes, and even tomato ketchup, decrease pro-inflammatory cytokine production and immune cell migration, which decreases inflammation. Many researchers link the anti-inflammatory effects of tomatoes to a compound called lycopene. In a rodent model, lycopene extracts reduced oxidative compounds that contribute to chronic inflammation associated with gastric ulcers. Furthermore, studies in humans show the addition of tomato juice to people’s diets actually reduces markers of systemic inflammation associated with obesity. The observation that this tomato-based compound decreases inflammation has lead researchers to use derivatives of these compounds to control inflammation through the modification of a key pro-inflammatory pathway, known as the NF-kB pathway. Lycopene derivatives modify essential molecules in this pathway and block the ability of the NF-kB pathway to produce pro-inflammatory cytokines. All of this data supports the exact opposite of what Campbell claims.

While researching for this post I could not find any peer-reviewed, scientific study to back-up the claim that tomatoes cause inflammation. Now, I am by no means suggesting tomatoes will cure all chronic inflammatory diseases, but there is certainly no reason to forego tomato consumption for fear of inflammation. Unfortunately, Brady’s health guru fails to consult scientific facts, and has unnecessarily denied this man/god tomatoes. Dieting can be difficult, and I give Brady credit for sticking to such a stringent diet. I think we can all agree that he deserves a cheat day; I just hope it’s not during the playoffs again.

Peer edited by Deirdre Sackett

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