What is it?
Lycopene is a naturally occurring chemical that gives fruits and vegetables a red color. It is one of a number of pigments called carotenoids. Lycopene is found in watermelons, pink grapefruits, apricots, and pink guavas. It is found in particularly high amounts in tomatoes and tomato products. In North America, 85% of dietary lycopene comes from tomato products such as tomato juice or paste. One cup (240 mL) of tomato juice provides about 23 mg of lycopene. 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. The lycopene in supplements is about as easy for the body to use as lycopene found in food.
People take lycopene for preventing heart disease, "hardening of the arteries" (atherosclerosis); and cancer of the prostate, breast, lung, bladder, ovaries, colon, and pancreas. Lycopene is also used for treating human papilloma virus (HPV) infection, which is a major cause of uterine cancer. Some people also use lycopene for cataracts and asthma.
How effective is it?
Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.
The effectiveness ratings for LYCOPENE are as follows:
Likely effective for...
- Preventing lycopene deficiency.
Possibly ineffective for...
Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for...
- Prostate cancer. Early research in men with precancerous changes in their prostate shows that taking 4 mg of lycopene supplements twice daily might delay or prevent progression to prostate cancer. In addition, researchers have surveyed men about their diet and health and found contradictory information about a possible role for lycopene in preventing prostate cancer. Some of these studies show that lycopene from foods, such as tomato products, is associated with a lower risk of developing prostate cancer. But other research shows no association between dietary lycopene intake and prostate cancer risk. However, for men in this study who had a family history of prostate cancer, getting more lycopene from food seemed to offer some protection against getting prostate cancer.
- Breast cancer. Several studies have tried to determine whether getting more lycopene from food or taking supplements will help to prevent breast cancer. But findings have not agreed.
- Bladder cancer. Research to date suggests that lycopene intake from the diet and lycopene levels in the blood don’t affect the risk of getting bladder cancer.
- Ovarian cancer. Some research shows that a diet rich in carotenoids, including lycopene, seems to help prevent ovarian cancer in young (premenopausal) women.
- Pancreatic cancer. Some research shows that a diet high in lycopene, primarily from tomatoes, seems to lower the risk of getting pancreatic cancer.
- Lung cancer. There is some evidence that getting lycopene from foods -- 12 mg/day or more for men, and 6.5 mg/day or more for women—lowers lung cancer risk in nonsmoking men aged 40 to 75, and nonsmoking women aged 30 to 55.
- Cancer of the colon and rectum. Research so far suggests that there is no connection between dietary lycopene and the risk of getting cancer of the colon or rectum.
- White pre-cancerous patches in the mouth (oral leukoplakia). Developing clinical research shows that taking 8 mg/day or 4 mg/day of a specific lycopene supplement (LycoRed, Jagsonpal Pharmaceutical) significantly improves oral leukoplakia.
- Heart disease. Study results are mixed. Some research shows that women with higher levels of lycopene in their blood have a lower risk of getting heart disease. But other studies show no link between lycopene intake and the risk of heart attack and stroke in women. In men already at low risk for heart disease, increasing dietary lycopene does not seem to prevent heart attacks.
- Eye disease (age related maculopathy). So far, it appears that dietary lycopene has no effect on getting or preventing age-related maculopathy.
- Human papilloma virus (HPV) infection. Women with higher levels of lycopene in their blood seem to get over HPV infections.
- “Hardening of the arteries” (atherosclerosis).
- Asthma attacks brought on by exercise.
- Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate lycopene for these uses.
Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that may help protect cells from damage. This is why there is a lot of research interest in lycopene’s role, if any, in preventing cancer.
Lycopene is LIKELY SAFE when taken by mouth in appropriate amounts. Daily supplements containing 30 mg of lycopene have been used safely for up to 8 weeks.
Special precautions & warnings:
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Lycopene is LIKELY SAFE when taken in amounts commonly found in foods. However, not enough is known about the safety of using lycopene supplements during pregnancy or breast-feeding. If you are pregnant or breast-feeding, avoid using lycopene in amounts greater than those typically found in foods.
Prostate cancer: Developing research suggests lycopene might worsen established prostate cancer. Until more is known, avoid lycopene if you have a prostate cancer diagnosis.
It is not known if this product interacts with any medicines.
Before taking this product, talk with your health professional if you take any medications.
Taking beta-carotene along with lycopene may increase the amount of lycopene that enters the body.
There are no known interactions with foods.
The appropriate dose of lycopene depends on several factors such as the user’s age, health, and several other conditions. At this time there is not enough scientific information to determine an appropriate range of doses for lycopene. Keep in mind that natural products are not always necessarily safe and dosages can be important. Be sure to follow relevant directions on product labels and consult your pharmacist or physician or other healthcare professional before using.
All-Trans Lycopene, All-Trans Lycopène, Cis-Lycopène, Licopeno, Lycopène, Lycopenes, Lycopènes, Psi-Psi-Carotene, Psi-Psi-Carotène.
To learn more about how this article was written, please see the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database methodology.methodology (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/methodology.html).
To see all references for the Lycopene page, please go to http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/554.html.
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Last reviewed - 08/12/2011
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