Lycopene is an antioxidant that belongs to a subgroup of carotenoids (vitamin A precursors) and is found in red and pink fruits such as grapefruit and tomatoes.
Lycopene is especially effective in fighting free radicals, which can cause cell damage that is associated with various health conditions.
Learn about the potential health benefits of lycopene and what to know about lycopene supplements.
9 potential benefits of lycopene
1. Cancer prevention
The powerful antioxidant properties of lycopene may help lower the risk of certain cancers.
Antioxidants neutralize free radicals that are formed in the process of cellular respiration, thus preventing damage to cell DNA.
Multiple studies have reported that lycopene supplementation given daily for about 4-8 months may reduce the incidence of prostate, breast, pancreas, stomach, and colon cancers. Whether it can help individuals who have already developed cancer or improve the response to ongoing conventional treatment remains unclear.
2. Heart health
With advancing age, the endothelium (inner layer of the blood vessels) undergoes changes that may disrupt normal blood flow. Lycopene can combat age-related oxidative changes to some degree and help lower blood pressure when coupled with conventional therapy and lifestyle changes.
In addition, increased plasma lycopene levels have been associated with reductions in triglyceride and low-density lipoprotein (bad) cholesterol levels and a mild increase in high-density lipoprotein (good) cholesterol levels.
3. Respiratory health
Studies have shown that regular consumption of tomato juice may reduce the inflammatory cell count in the sputum of people who have frequent asthma or bronchitis attacks. This is likely due to the presence of lycopene and related carotene compounds in tomato juice.
4. Diabetes prevention
Due to its antioxidant properties, lycopene may be beneficial for preventing diabetes. By reducing oxidative stress throughout the body, lycopene helps lower the pro-inflammatory state that is associated with insulin resistance, accelerated beta cell destruction, and endothelial dysfunction, which eventually lead to diabetes.
5. Skin health
Lycopene may have anti-aging effects, reducing sunspots and minimizing the signs of sun damage. Moreover, it may help treat sunburns.
6. Oral health
Lycopene may help prevent oral damage due to uncontrolled diabetes, smoking, alcohol, and sugar consumption.
7. Eye health
Emerging research shows that increased lycopene levels in the ocular tissues may help prevent aging in the retina and other areas of the eye. Lycopene may have a role in delaying the onset of cataracts, macular degeneration, and glaucoma.
8. Erectile dysfunction
Lycopene causes the release of nitric oxide through the blood vessels. This has a vasodilatory effect that can lead to improved blood flow to the penis.
9. Prostate health
Lycopene has been shown to prevent enlarged prostate and significantly reduce the risk of prostate cancer in young people.
What is the best way to take lycopene?
According to the FDA, it is better to obtain lycopene through diet than through supplements. If you want to take supplements, you should talk to your doctor.
Because lycopene is fat-soluble, consuming it with fat increases its bioavailability. For example, eating tomato salad with cheese and olive oil results in higher blood carotenoid levels than eating salad without dressing.
One study showed that the consumption of tomato salsa with avocado (a healthy fat) led to a 4.4-fold increase in lycopene absorption compared to salsa without avocado.
The recommended dose for supplements is 10-30 mg per day. Pregnant and lactating women should avoid any vitamin A and pro-carotene or carotenoid supplements.
How effective are lycopene supplements?
There is no scientific evidence to support a link between lycopene supplement intake and a reduced risk of cancer.
However, the FDA has found some limited evidence to support the link between tomato consumption and reduced risk of prostate, ovarian, gastric, and pancreatic cancers.
Are there side effects of lycopene?
One study reported an increased bleeding tendency in a person with cancer who consumed lycopene supplements. The exact cause of the bleeding was unclear.
Adverse side effects such as skin rash, stomach upset, and bloating are often reported. There is also always potential for food allergies and drug interactions when taking lycopene.
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