If you think of green tomatoes only as the favorite side dish of Southern gal pals who serve up abusive exes as barbecue (H/T Fannie Flagg), think again!
A new study has found that a compound in green tomatoes, tomatidine, not only boosts muscle growth and strength, it protects against muscle wasting caused by illness, injury or aging. (Guess Popeye should've been popping fried green tomatoes instead of cans of spinach if he wanted to take down Brutus once and for all.)
A research team at the University of Iowa found that healthy mice given supplements containing tomatidine grew bigger muscles, became stronger and could exercise longer. Even better, the mice did not gain any weight due to a corresponding loss of fat, suggesting that the compound may also have potential for treating obesity. Nice bonus.
The research team used a systems biology tool called the Connectivity Map to identify tomatidine and discovered it stimulated growth of cultured human muscle cells. (The same screening method previously identified a compound in apple peel as a muscle-boosting agent - but green tomatoes were found to be even more potent.) In fact, the team discovered that tomatidine generates changes in gene expression that are essentially opposite to the changes that occur in muscle cells when people are affected by muscle atrophy.
"Green tomatoes are safe to eat in moderation. But we don't know how many green tomatoes a person would need to eat to get a dose of tomatidine similar to what we gave the mice," study chief Dr. Christopher Adams said in a statement "We also don't know if such a dose of tomatidine will be safe for people, or if it will have the same effect in people as it does in mice. We are working hard to answer these questions, hoping to find relatively simple ways that people can maintain muscle mass and function, or if necessary, regain it."
The end goal is "science-based supplements," or even simply incorporating tomatidine "into everyday foods to make them healthier."
Muscle atrophy, or muscle-wasting, is a significant health issue. It can be caused by aging, injury, cancer or heart failure and makes people weak and fatigued, prohibits physical activity and predisposes them to falls and fractures. It affects more than 50 million Americans annually, including 30 million elderly.
Exercise can help but it's not enough and is not an option for those who are ill or injured, Adams said.
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The findings were published April 9 in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
We can't wait to see all the musclebound meatheads at the gym sucking down their protein powder and green tomato shakes. Hasta la vista, kale!