What Are The Benefits Of Lycopene?


Lycopene is derived from the tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum, in the nightshade family, Solanaceae), a perennial that produces during the warm season and reaches a height of 3 to 4 feet.

The tomato is native to western South America, and is currently grown and consumed worldwide.  Lycopene is the most powerful antioxidant of the carotenoids, pigments that determine the colour of fruits and vegetables eg red colour of tomato.

History Of Lycopene

Tomatoes were grown and harvested as early as 700 C.E. by the Aztecs and Incas. During the 16 century, the Spanish Conquistadors brought the tomato plant north to Central America and Mexico.

Europeans took tomato seeds back to Europe and the tomato became popular in the countries of Italy, Portugal, and Spain.

The tomato has been called many names including the “apple of paradise” by Germans, the “love apple” by the French, “golden apple” by Italian herbalist Mattioli, and even “unhealthy fruit” by the British who believed the tomato was poisonous because of its bright red colour and close relationship to the very toxic nightshade plant.

Early in the 19 century the tomato began being used in cooking and eventually became one of the most popular edible fruits.

Present Research

Lycopene is used externally as a common ingredient in sun blocks and anti-aging products.  It is also used internally as an antioxidant.

Studies have showed that external use of lycopene has the potential to protect against ultraviolet light skin damage and other antioxidant uses for the skin.

Lycopene is also being researched for a potential internal use as a skin protectant that could help prevent skin cancer and damage that causes skin aging.

Ongoing research is being performed on lycopene and combinations of substances and vitamins including lycopene for the prevention of many types of cancer specifically prevention of cancers of the prostate, pancreas, stomach, breast, cervix and lung, and other potential antioxidant uses.

Other studies indicate lycopene has beneficial effects on the heart, including possible reduction in coronary heart disease and heart attack including cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.

Intervention studies have shown that lycopene-containing foods may reduce cholesterol levels and lipid peroxidation, factors implicated in the initiation of cardiovascular disease.

Lycopene may be the best free radical scavenger among carotenes – it is at least twice as effective an antioxidant as beta-carotene.

Unlike several of its carotenoid cousins, lycopene does not have pro-vitamin A activity so does not get converted to Vitamin A.  So its health benefits are due to the powerful antioxidant it contains.

In addition to protecting cells from free radical damage, lycopene may produce its beneficial effect by other means, such as improving the function of cell-to-cell junctions and some aspects of cell metabolism.

Being fat soluble, lycopene appears to be particularly effective in tissues with high fat and lipid content and significantly reduces the risk of cancer of the prostate, an organ very high in lipids.

The skin is a lipid-rich organ and will also benefit from high antioxidant activity of lycopene.  Lycopenes ability to regulate cell-to-cell junctions might provide an additional benefit of improving skin texture.

Lycopene’s ability to block UV light is an additional benefit for the skin.  However, lycopene has SPF of about 3, which is insufficient to protect from direct sun or any other harsh UV exposure.

However it is enough to reduce the effects of indirect sunlight or the sunlight that has passed through window glass.

For people who do not wish to use sun block at all times, an alternative may be to wear a sun block SPF 15-30 outdoors, and use a lycopene lotion at other times.

Best Food Sources Of Lycopene Are:

1. Tomatoes – higher levels when cooked and mixed with olive oil and/or avocado

2. In tomatoes, heat processing and homogenisation breaks protein-carotenoid complexes, releases lycopene from cell wall linkages and improves human uptake of this compound while heat processing is not necessary for adequate uptake of lycopene from watermelon juice

3. Watermelon

4. Red Grapefruit

5. Apricots

6. Pink guavas

7. Papaya

8. Rosehips (fruit from the Rosebush)

However to ingest a beneficial amount of lycopene you would need to eat at least 100grams a day, so lycopene supplements are recommended in conjunction with the food sources mentioned – don’t just rely on supplements it is always best to eat the food source also.

Lycopene is not produced in the body, so you only obtain its benefits by eating foods rich in lycopene or supplementing.

When ingested, lycopene is distributed throughout the entire body and only relatively small amount finds its way into the skin.  Lycopene is well absorbed if applied topically (e.g. in a cream or lotion) because it is fat-soluble and has relatively small molecules.

However there are few topical products available and are quite expensive and like all antioxidants once a jar is opened it will begin to loose some of its potency due to being exposed to oxygen in the air.

That being the case I feel that oral supplementation is the best way to go.

If you enjoy any of the abovementioned foods then eat them frequently.

However if you are experiencing any of these health disorders you do need to receive other treatment/remedies to help resolve the problem and not rely solely on lycopene, as often each health issue requires individual assessment and treatment for optimum results.

All the above health issues can be treated with conventional medicine, homeopathy or herbal medicine and nutritional supplements as required.

Please see a professional who can give you the right advice and remedies.

Please Note:

In theory, lycopene increase the cholesterol-lowering effects of drugs such as lovastatin (Mevacor), or use of drugs such as lovastatin may decrease levels of lycopene in the blood. This possible interaction has not been well studied.

Other drugs that theoretically may reduce lycopene levels include cholesterol-lowering drugs, such as cholestyramine (Questran, Prevalite) and colestipol (Cholestid), as well as nicotine and alcohol.  Consult with your prescribing doctor if you are on these medications before supplementing.

Naturopathic consultations can be arranged for you if you require further advice on any health problem you have.  Please contact me to organise your appointment.

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Lyn Craven – lyncraven.com

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