The Benefits of Lycopene

lycopene
Tomatoes are a food source of the antioxidant lycopene. Betsie Van Der Meer/Taxi/Getty Images

An antioxidant responsible for the red coloring of certain fruits and vegetables, lycopene appears to offer a number of health benefits. For instance, following a diet rich in lycopene has been linked to reduced risk for several major diseases (including certain types of cancer). Other possible health benefits of lycopene include improved lung health.

Sources of Lycopene

Tomatoes and tomato products (such as tomato sauce) are considered the top dietary sources of lycopene.

Other food sources include watermelon, pink grapefruit, papaya, apricots, and guava. Although lycopene is also available in supplement form, the health benefits of lycopene supplements have not yet been extensively studied.

Benefits of Lycopene

Here's a look at the science behind lycopene's health benefits:

1) Prostate Cancer

In a number of population studies, researchers have found that a diet high in lycopene from tomato-based foods may be linked with a reduced risk of prostate cancer. What's more, in a 2009 review of eight studies on lycopene and prostate cancer, researchers found that lycopene intake was linked to a reduction in levels of prostate-specific antigen (a protein that often occurs at elevated levels in prostate cancer patients). However, the review's authors caution that it's too soon to draw a firm conclusion on the benefits of lycopene supplements for prostate cancer prevention.

2) Lung Cancer

Intake of lycopene may benefit lung health, according to a large study published in 2000. Analyzing data on 124,207 adults who were followed for 10 to 12 years, researchers found that lung cancer risk was significantly lower among those who consumed a diet high in a variety of carotenoids (a class of antioxidants that includes beta-carotene and alpha-carotene, in addition to lycopene).

3) Heart Disease

Following a diet rich in lycopene may offer some cardiovascular benefits, a 2003 study suggests. Sizing up the lycopene intake of 39,876 middle-aged and older women over the course of about seven years, scientists discovered that those who consumed the most lycopene had a lower cardiovascular disease risk than those who consumed the least lycopene. In a 2005 study of 499 men with cardiovascular disease and 499 age-matched men without cardiovascular disease, however, researchers found that higher blood levels of lycopene weren't associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

4) Asthma

A small study published in 2000 indicates that lycopene may benefit individuals with exercise-induced asthma. After a week of taking 30 mg of lycopene in supplement form daily, 11 out of 20 participants experienced a significant increase in protection against exercise-induced asthma.

Increasing Your Lycopene Intake?

Due to the lack of definitive evidence of lycopene's health benefits, it's important not to rely solely on lycopene for the prevention or treatment of any health condition.

Furthermore, additional research needs to be conducted before lycopene supplementation can be recommended. Nonetheless, including lycopene-rich fruits and vegetables in a balanced diet may help increase your defense against certain diseases and offer some benefits to your overall health.

If you're considering using lycopene for health purposes, make sure to consult your primary care provider first. Self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences. 

Sources:

American Cancer Society. "Lycopene". November 2008.

Haseen F, Cantwell MM, O'Sullivan JM, Murray LJ. "Is there a benefit from lycopene supplementation in men with prostate cancer? A systematic review." Prostate Cancer Prostatic Dis. 2009;12(4):325-32.

Michaud DS, Feskanich D, Rimm EB, Colditz GA, Speizer FE, Willett WC, Giovannucci E. "Intake of specific carotenoids and risk of lung cancer in 2 prospective US cohorts." Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 72(4):990-7.

Neuman I, Nahum H, Ben-Amotz A. "Reduction of exercise-induced asthma oxidative stress by lycopene, a natural antioxidant." Allergy. 2000 55(12):1184-9.

Sesso HD, Liu S, Gaziano JM, Buring JE. "Dietary lycopene, tomato-based food products and cardiovascular disease in women." J Nutr. 2003 133(7):2336-41.

Sesso HD, Buring JE, Norkus EP, Gaziano JM. "Plasma lycopene, other carotenoids, and retinol and the risk of cardiovascular disease in men." Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 81(5):990-7.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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