What is lycopene? It is an antioxidant compound and the natural pigment that is responsible for the deep color of several fruits, most commonly tomatoes and watermelons. While we may have been eating tomatoes and watermelons for centuries, our fascination with lycopene is actually fairly recent. In spite of the short history, scientists have been able to amass quite a significant amount of research that supports the role of lycopene in human health.
Its biggest contribution stems from its antioxidant benefits. While a member of the carotenoid family, lycopene does not get converted into vitamin A as does beta carotene. This means the health benefits of lycopene are attributed to its own powerful antioxidant actions. In fact, laboratory experiments indicate that lycopene is a more effective antioxidant than other carotenoids, including beta carotene. Dr. Edward Giovannucci, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health reports, “We don’t really understand it entirely yet, but lycopene may have specific properties that protect the cell in a way other antioxidants may not." It’s not too surprising, then, to learn that lycopene is an ingredient in Jon Barron’s Ultimate Antioxidant formula.
This antioxidant benefit has led to numerous studies of the effects of lycopene on cancer with some positive results. Lycopene appears to be one of the best measures to prevent cancer, mainly prostate and bladder types. When used in conjunction with a full-complex, natural vitamin E and green tea extract, studies indicate that it may inhibit prostate cancer proliferation by some 90%.
In addition to prostate cancer, it may help in the prevention of cancers of the pancreas, stomach, breast, cervix, and lung, as well as in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and cataracts.
Its antioxidant abilities provide other benefits as well. In one study of postmenopausal women, it was shown that a lack of lycopene was likely to put women at increased risk of osteoporosis. In summary, various studies have shown that it may help with:
- coronary artery disease
- type 2 diabetes
- cancer prevention
- reducing symptoms of menopause
- reducing risk of heart disease
- relieving pain associated with diabetic neuropathy
- preventing seizures
- repairing damage from seizures
- improving overall bone health
However, even with all of these benefits, the primary benefit of lycopene is its ability to help protect your cells from free radicals. For instance, studies show that lycopene may offer some protection from two common pesticides used in the US, dichlorvos and atrazine, as well as protect brain cells from the negative side effects of MSG.
If you’re looking to add more lycopene to your diet, common sources include:
- canned tomato juice
- raw watermelon
- marinara sauce
- tomato paste
- pink or red grapefruit
However, if after reading about all of these health benefits you’re ready to jump on the lycopene train, consider this. In North America, 85% of dietary lycopene comes from tomato products such as tomato juice or paste. This is because processing raw tomatoes using heat (in the making of tomato juice, tomato paste or ketchup, for example) actually changes the lycopene in the raw product into a form that is easier for the body to use. For instance, you’ll find that a ½ cup of canned tomato puree has about 27,000 micrograms of lycopene. Whereas a slice of raw tomato contains 515 micrograms. In other words, while fresh is typically best when it comes to most natural health benefits, when it comes to lycopene, cooked may just be better.