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Lycopene and its health benefits-

Updated on December 3, 2012

Lycopene is a member of carotenoid family of phyto-chemicals. It is the natural pigment of deep red color of many fruits notably tomatoes. Other fruits highest in lycopene are pink grapefruit, water-melon and guava. Foods containing it include persimmons, apricots, red carrots, red bell peppers and papayas. Although it is chemically a carotene, it has no vitamin A activity.

Lycopene is not produced in the body so it has to be taken from dietary sources rich in lycopene. Cooked and processed tomato products like tomato juice, ketchup, spaghetti sauce and pizza sauce are also rich in lycopene. It is better absorbed when it is consumed in cooked tomato products than fresh tomatoes. Heat processing releases up to 2.5 times more lycopene from tomatoes. Since lyopene is fat soluble, adding a little oil helps its absorption.

Lycopene is present in human serum, skin, liver, adrenal glands, lungs, prostate and colon.

Its function-

Lycopene is more effective anti-oxidant than other of its carorinoid cousins which include beta-carotine. Its ant-oxidant actions are effective in maintaining the strength, thickness and fluidity of cell membranes. Cell membranes are responsible for screening what goes in and what goes out of cells. They allow good nutrients in and remove cellular junk and prevent toxins from entering the cells. Strong healthy cell membranes are vital to the prevention of many diseases.

Health benefits-

Lycopene may help prevent many illnesses and diseases such as.

  • Heart diseases- It stops LDL cholesterol from being oxidized by free radicals. It thus prevents plaques from depositing in the arteries and decreases atherosclerosis.
  • Infertility- It helps to improve infertility. Further research is needed to confirm these results.
  • Macular degeneration and cataracts- It may help prevent age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. But recent studies have not found a clear benefit.
  • Skin- It may prevent the aging of skin and keeps it younger lookinh.
  • Internal sunscreen- It acts as an internal sunscreen and protects the skin from sunburn.
  • Osteoporosis- It may help prevent osteoporosis.
  • Benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH)- Lycopene may help prevent disease progression in BPH.
  • Cancers- It helps prevent many forms of cancers. The relationship between development of breast cancer and lycopene level in the blood is not clear and needs to further studied. Similarly, some observations suggest possible benefits of tomato product intake in preventing cervical cancer but this observation needs further validation. There is also no consistent evidence of any benefit in prevention of gastrointestinal and colorectal cancer.
  • Stroke- A recent study by Finland researchers fount that anti-oxidant lycopene can halve the risk of stroke.
  • High blood pressure- There is some evidence that short-term treatments with lycopene may reduce high blood pressure. More research is needed to examine its long term effects on blood pressure.

  • Immune system- It has been proposed that lycopene may stimulates immune system. It also needs to be validated further.

Some commercial products of lycopene are available but there is proven effective dose of lycopene. There is not enough scientific evidence to recommend the use of lycopene in children.

Avoid lycopene in individuals with a known allergy or hypersensitivity to tomatoes or lycopene. Tomato and tomato based products may be acidic and may irritate stomach ulcers.

Amounts of lycopene found in foods are usually assumed to be safe. Tomato consumption has been shown to increase lycopene concentration in breast milk and plasma of breast feeding women.

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