You may have heard of lycopene. But what is lycopene and what are some lycopene benefits your body can gain from this potent antioxidant? Lycopene is one pigment in a large family of plant pigments, carotenoids. Carotenoids produce colors ranging from the yellow color of squash to the orange color of pumpkins to the red color of tomatoes. It is the pigment that also gives watermelon, papaya, pink grapefruit and guava their color. There are more than 600 naturally occurring carotenoids, but lycopene offers the most potent antioxidant protection of them all. And tomatoes are the best source of lycopene.

Lycopene has been studied for more than 70 years. Researchers have explained its ability to help protect against prostate, pancreatic, breast, lung, and skin cancers, as well as cardiovascular disease, in more than 2000 articles published in peer-reviewed journals and 4000 other publications.

Here are a few highlights from those studies.

Lycopene Benefits

Prostate cancer

It’s interesting that lycopene is the most abundant carotenoid present in the prostate. In one study, 32 patients with prostate cancer were scheduled to undergo a prostatectomy. They ate a daily serving of tomato sauce starting three weeks before surgery and the researchers were amazed by the results. The patients’ blood lycopene doubled and the prostate lycopene concentration tripled during this short period. There was a decrease in blood prostate-specific antigen (PSA), which has relation to the increase in death of prostate cells, especially in the cancerous regions. A recent meta-analysis (comparison of many studies) shows that higher lycopene consumption, between 9 and 21 mg a day, has association with a lower risk of prostate cancer.

Lung cancer

Did you know that more people in the U.S die from lung cancer than any other type of cancer? And you don’t have to be a smoker to develop it. The human lung is highly vulnerable to oxidative damage. Since there is a high volume of oxygen that passes through the lung, it is extremely vulnerable to free-radical damage unless there are multiple levels of antioxidant protection. The good news is that tomato lycopene may provide the potent antioxidant protection that everyone can benefit from. Many case-control and cohort studies have examined how lycopene-rich diets help protect against lung cancer.

A study at the Harvard School of Public Health analyzed the relationship between lung cancer and other antioxidants in two cohorts that included more than 46,000 men and 77,000 women. In the men’s group, 275 new cases of lung cancer were diagnosed after 10 years of follow-up. In the women’s group, during a 12-year follow-up period, 519 new cases were diagnosed. Based on questionnaires that the participants filled out about their consumption of fruits and vegetables, the researchers concluded that the people who consumed a variety of carotenoids had a lower lung cancer risk. More specifically, they found that alpha-carotene and lycopene intake had an even more beneficial impact on lowering risk of lung cancer.

Skin cancer

The tomato uses lycopene to protect itself from burning as it ripens in the sun. Likewise, we humans can benefit from lycopene in a similar way as it helps protect our skin from ultraviolet radiation. When humans gain exposure to UV light, more lycopene in the skin takes on damage than to beta-carotene, suggesting that lycopene plays a greater role in the protection against UV-induced skin damage than beta-carotene. According to these findings, lycopene applied topically has the ability to prevent UVB-induced photo-damage, and prevent DNA damage.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD)

CVD is the leading cause of death in the United States and was responsible for more than 652,000 deaths in 2005 (U.S. Mortality Data 2008). An increase in plasma lycopene levels has assocation with reductions in CVD risk and have the ability to improve biomarkers of CVD. A recent meta-analysis that looked at 21 studies found that supplementing with lycopene was associated with significant reductions in LDL-cholesterol and systolic (the bottom number) blood pressure. Other studies have shown that lycopene helps promote cardiovascular health by lowering HDL-associated inflammation.

The Best Way to Get Lycopene

The best way to get lycopene is to eat tomatoes cooked in olive oil or in tomato sauce. If you are allergic to tomatoes, you can get lycopene from watermelon and the other highly colored fruits previously mentioned. The problem is most of us don’t eat nearly the amount of fruits and veggies necessary to get the recommended 8 to 21 mg. of lycopene each day. Also, lycopene levels decrease as we age. In fact, individuals who have cardiovascular disease typically have lower lycopene levels.

So, play it safe. EffiHealth offers Prostorix Prostate Health which contains 5 mg. of lycopene per serving. It’s an easy way to ensure that you’re getting lycopene and other nutrients vital to prostate health and cardiovascular health.

And don’t hold off on topping your pasta with plenty of tomato sauce. 

Quick Recipe for Fresh and Delicious Tomato Sauce with Lycopene Benefits

red tomato sauce with lycopene in red bowl

Chop 6 ripe organic tomatoes and 2 fresh garlic cloves. Heat 2 Tbs. of olive oil in a quart-size pan. Add the tomatoes and garlic, some fresh, chopped basil and/or oregano, and simmer until tomatoes cook completely (about 15 minutes). Add salt and pepper to taste and serve over pasta. (This makes enough sauce for 4 servings.)

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