Although the health benefits of tomatoes have long been touted, only recently has research begun to support these assertions. In fact, studies now show that tomatoes have even more benefits than previously known. Scientists have now identified the primary source of tomato’s health benefits as the naturally-occurring compound called Lycopene.
Lycopene plays a vital role in the prevention of many age-related and degenerative diseases. If you want to stay healthy and feel good, it is essential to include Lycopene as part of your daily diet.
Lycopene – What is it?
Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant and natural organic compound. It is the main carotenoid in tomatoes, responsible for giving tomatoes their red colour. Antioxidants help protect cells from free-radical damage and repair already-damaged cells. Lycopene is most concentrated in tomatoes but it is also found in other red fruits such as:
- Pink grapefruit
A considerable amount of research has been conducted into the benefits of lycopene. It has an important role in the prevention of numerous degenerative and age-related diseases as well as being anti-carcinogenic, reducing the risk of certain types of cancer including prostate and cervical cancers. Moreover, lycopene has been shown to lower cholesterol levels, reduce the risks and effects of osteoporosis, increase heart health, increase fertility in aging males, and more.
How does Lycopene work?
Lycopene plays a powerful role in preventing a number of degenerative diseases as well as minimizing their effects. It does this through a chemical process by donating one of its electrons to oxygen free radicals (which damage the integrity of cells), thus neutralizing them. Oxygen-free radicals have at least one unpaired electron, and when this electron is paired with the Lycopene electron, the free radical is neutralized. As free radicals are the cause of a wide array of degenerative and age-related diseases, Lycopene is responsible for preventing and reducing the effects of many of these diseases, as well as providing general health benefits.
The benefits of Lycopene
Lycopene – A powerful antioxidant
Oxidation, or ‘oxidative stress’, is linked with the occurrence of highly degenerative and age-related diseases such as cancer, osteoporosis, coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and more. The culprits of oxidation are called ‘reactive oxygen species’ (ROS), ‘oxygen free radicals’ or simply ‘free radicals.’ Antioxidants, which come in many forms, offer an effective way of fighting the destructive effects of ROS. However, Lycopene in particular, is “the most potent antioxidant naturally present in many fruits and vegetables” according to Rao, Guns, & Rao, 2003, giving lycopene status as a particularly powerful antioxidant.
Lycopene – Reducing the risk of cancer
A six-year Harvard study found that men who have at least ten weekly servings of tomato-based Lycopene-rich foods had a 45% lower risk of prostate cancer, greatly reinforcing the supposition that Lycopene acts as an anti-carcinogen (preventing cancer).
Moreover, a more recent study of Lycopene in women found that women with high Lycopene levels were 5 times less likely to be at risk for cervical cancer compared to those women with low Lycopene levels.
Lycopene – Lowers cholesterol levels
There has been increasing evidence that Lycopene lowers cholesterol by reducing the levels of Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) oxidation, thus helping reduce the ‘bad’ cholesterol in the blood. A recent comprehensive study clearly showed that LDL levels in mammals with high levels of Lycopene were ‘significantly’ lower than in those mammals with low levels of Lycopene.
Lycopene – Increasing Heart Health
Different studies have shown that Lycopene and other tomato-based extracts thwart the unwanted clumping together of platelet blood cells (called ‘cell aggregation’), which is an important factor in decreasing heart-related problems, such as atherosclerosis.
In a recent South American study on 26 types of vegetables, green beans along with Lycopene-rich tomatoes ranked the best in their anti-aggregation abilities. This showed the benefits and strength of Lycopene in fighting the detrimental results of cell aggregation which can result in Coronary Heart Disease (CHD), Cardiovascular Disease (CVD), and other heart-related issues.
Lycopene – Important for bone health and reducing osteoporosis
Lycopene has been shown to contribute to strong bone health, reduction of bone loss and reducing the risk of osteoporosis. As Rao, Guns, and Rao (2003) mention in their study:
“The potent antioxidant properties of lycopene, the strong evidence for the role of oxidative stress in bone health, and the reported studies on the effects of lycopene in bone cells may have important implications for the beneficial role of lycopene in bone health.”
Another study has convincingly shown that “Lycopene treatment can inhibit bone loss and increase bone strength” according to Liang et al., 2012. It plays an important role in the stimulation and proliferation of human osteoblasts, suggesting its importance in preventing osteoporosis in postmenopausal women.
Lycopene – Other health benefits
Significant health benefits of Lycopene which are worth mentioning include reducing asthma episodes, increasing sperm production in aging males, reducing blood pressure in hypertensive adults and preventing Parkinson’s disease and stroke, and more (as mentioned below).
Lycopene – A summary of benefits
As you can appreciate, Lycopene is an exceptionally powerful antioxidant responsible for a significant number of health benefits such as:
- reducing the risk of certain cancers (prostate and cervical cancer)
- reducing the risk of osteoporosis (especially in women)
- lowering blood cholesterol levels
- increasing bone health
- increasing heart health
- reducing blood pressure
- reducing asthma episodes
- preventing Parkinson’s disease
- preventing stroke
- increasing male fertility
As we now have a greater understanding of how Lycopene can benefit our health, we should consider the most appropriate ways to add Lycopene to our diet.
Adding Lycopene to your Diet
There are two main sources of Lycopene available: Red fruits and vegetables, and supplements.
The array of fruits in which Lycopene can be found are not always readily available, for reasons of seasonal variation and geographical location, hence supplements can be an excellent alternative and indeed a superior method of delivery when taking a high quality product. Recent studies suggest the daily intake of Lycopene in supplement form should be at least 10 mg with the greatest benefits when 20 mg or more is consumed per day.
- FREE: Etminan, M., Takkouche, B. & Caamano-Isorna, F. (2004). The role of tomato products and lycopene in the prevention of prostate cancer: a meta-analysis of observational studies. Cancer Epidemiology Prevention. 13:340–345
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- FREE PDF: Giovannucci, E., Rimm, E., Liu, Y., Stampfer, M., & Willett, W. (2002). A prospective study of tomato products, lycopene, and prostate cancer risk. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 94(5), 391-398. doi:10.1093/jnci/94.5.391
- FREE PDF: Liang, H. L., Yu, F., Tong, Z., & Zeng, W. (2012). Lycopene effects on serum mineral elements and bone strength in rats. Molecule, 17, 7093-7102. doi:10.3390/molecules17067093
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- FREE PDF: Nashar, N. N., & Abduljawad, S. H. (2012). Impact effect of lycopene and tomato-based products network on cardio-protective biomarkers in vivo. Functional Foods in Health and Disease, 2(5), 151-165. Retrieved from http://functionalfoodscenter.net/files/52515573.pdf
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