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Lycopene


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:

Possibly ineffective for...

  • Bladder cancer. Research suggests that there is no link between lycopene consumption in the diet or lycopene blood levels and the risk for bladder cancer.
  • Diabetes. Research suggests that increased lycopene consumption in the diet does not decrease the risk of developing diabetes.

Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for...

  • Age-related eye disease (age-related maculopathy). Research on the effect of lycopene in age-related eye disease is inconsistent. Some evidence suggests that people with low lycopene levels are almost twice as likely to develop age-related eye disease compared to people with high levels. However, other research suggests that there is no link between lycopene levels or lycopene intake and the risk of age-related eye disease.
  • Asthma. Research on the effects of lycopene in people with asthma is inconsistent. Taking lycopene does not seem to reduce asthma symptoms in adults with stable asthma. However, in people with a history of exercise-induced asthma, taking a specific lycopene product (LycoMato, LycoRed Corp., Orange, NJ) seems to improve lung function after exercise.
  • Hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). There is some evidence showing that higher lycopene blood levels is associated with a reduced risk of hardening of the arteries. There is also early evidence that higher lycopene blood levels can reduce the risk of heart disease associated with hardening of the arteries. However, there does not appear to be a link between lycopene levels and stroke risk.
  • Enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hypertrophy). Early research shows that taking lycopene can slow the progression of prostate enlargement and can improve symptoms in people with this condition. However, other research found no link between lycopene intake in the diet and the development of an enlarged prostate.
  • Breast cancer. Research about how lycopene affects breast cancer risk is inconsistent. Some evidence suggests that having higher lycopene blood levels is associated with a lower risk of breast cancer. However, other research shows that neither lycopene intake nor lycopene blood levels are linked to breast cancer risk.
  • Heart disease. Some research shows that women with higher levels of lycopene in their blood have a lower risk of developing heart disease. However, other research shows no link between lycopene intake and the risk of heart attack or stroke in women. Also, increasing dietary lycopene does not seem to prevent heart attacks in men at low risk for heart disease.
  • Cataracts. One study suggests that higher lycopene blood levels are associated with a lower risk of developing cataracts. However, other studies have found no link between lycopene intake or lycopene blood levels and the risk of developing cataracts.
  • Cervical cancer. Research about how lycopene affects the risk of cervical cancer is inconsistent. Some evidence suggests that higher lycopene blood levels or higher lycopene intake in the diet is linked to a lower risk of cervical cancer. Other studies have not found this link.
  • Colorectal cancer. Research about how lycopene affects the risk of colorectal cancer is inconsistent. Some research suggests that people with high lycopene intake in the diet are less likely to develop colorectal cancer than those with low intake. However, other research shows no link between lycopene intake and the risk of colorectal cancer.
  • Gingivitis. Early research shows that taking a specific lycopene supplement by mouth (LycoRed, Jagsonpal Pharmaceuticals) for 2 weeks or receiving a single injection of lycopene gel into the gums reduces gingivitis.
  • Brain tumor (giloma). Early research shows that taking lycopene by mouth for 3 months does not improve the response to radiotherapy and chemotherapy in people with brain tumors.
  • Ulcers caused by H. pylori infection. Early research shows that taking lycopene by along with antibiotics does not help treat H. pylori infection compared to taking antibiotics alone.
  • Human papilloma virus (HPV) infection. Women with higher levels of lycopene in their blood seem to recover from cancer-associated HPV infection faster than women with lower lycopene blood levels.
  • High cholesterol. Early research shows that taking a specific lycopene supplement (LycoRed, Jagsonpal Pharmaceuticals) by mouth daily for 6 months lowers total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol, and increases high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good”) cholesterol. However, other evidence suggests that lycopene does not affect cholesterol levels in healthy adults or in those with heart disease.
  • High blood pressure. Early research shows that taking a specific lycopene product (LycoMato, LycoRed Corp., Organge, NJ) daily for 8 weeks lowers blood pressure in people with high blood pressure. However, other research suggests that there is no link between lycopene blood levels and the risk of developing high blood pressure.
  • Lung cancer. Research about how lycopene affects the risk of lung cancer is inconsistent. Some research shows that lower lycopene intake in the diet is linked to an increased risk of lung cancer. However, other research suggests that there is no link between lycopene consumption in the diet or lycopene blood levels and lung cancer risk.
  • Male fertility problems. Early research shows that taking lycopene by mouth daily for 3 months improves sperm quality in some men with fertility problems due to unknown causes.
  • Menopausal symptoms. Early research shows that taking a specific product containing lycopene, calcium, vitamin D3, astaxanthin, and citrus bioflavonoids (Cor. Con. International, Parma, Italy) daily for 8 weeks reduces menopausal symptoms including hot flashes, joint pain, anxiety, and depression.
  • White pre-cancerous patches in the mouth (oral leukoplakia). Early research shows that taking a specific lycopene supplement (LycoRed, Jagsonpal Pharmaceutical) by mouth twice daily improves white pre-cancerous patches in the mouth.
  • Ulcers and swelling in the mouth (oral mucositis). Early research shows that taking lycopene by mouth daily for 2 months improves ulcerations in the mouth in people with oral mucositis.
  • Ovarian cancer. There is inconsistent evidence about the effect of lycopene on ovarian cancer risk. Some research shows that a diet rich in carotenoids, including lycopene, seems to help prevent ovarian cancer in young (premenopausal) women. However, other research shows that the risk of developing ovarian cancer is not linked to lycopene blood levels.
  • Pancreatic cancer. Some early research shows that a diet high in lycopene, primarily from tomatoes, seems to lower the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
  • High blood pressure during pregnancy. Research on the effect of lycopene for preventing high blood pressure during pregnancy is unclear. Some research shows that taking a specific lycopene supplement (LycoRed, Jagonpal Pharmaceuticals) twice daily starting between weeks 16 and 20 of pregnancy and continuing until delivery lowers blood pressure and reduces associated complications. However, other research suggests that lycopene does not affect blood pressure during pregnancy.
  • Prostate cancer. Research on the effects of lycopene for preventing or treating prostate cancer is inconsistent. Some research suggests that increasing lycopene consumption in the diet, or higher lycopene blood levels, is linked with a lower risk of developing prostate cancer. However, other research shows no link between lycopene intake or blood levels and prostate cancer risk. In addition, early research in men with precancerous changes in their prostate shows that taking lycopene supplements might delay or prevent the progression to prostate cancer. However, in other research, taking lycopene daily for up to one year did not seem to help treat prostate cancer.
  • Prostate swelling and pelvic pain. Early research shows that taking a specific combination of lycopene, selenium, and saw palmetto (Profluss, KonPharma) by mouth for 8 weeks reduces pain in men with prostate swelling and pelvic pain compared to saw palmetto alone.
  • Kidney cancer (renal cell carcinoma). Early research shows no link between lycopene consumption in the diet and the risk of developing kidney cancer
  • Sunburn. Early research shows that taking lycopene by mouth, alone or together with other ingredients, might protect against sunburn
  • Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate lycopene for these uses.

How does it work?

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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.

Are there safety concerns?

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Lycopene is LIKELY SAFE when taken by mouth in appropriate amounts. Daily supplements containing up to 120 mg of lycopene have been used safely for up to one year.

Special precautions & warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Lycopene is LIKELY SAFE during pregnancy and breast-feeding when taken in amounts commonly found in foods. However, lycopene is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when taken as a supplement during pregnancy. A study using a specific lycopene supplement (LycoRed, Jagsonpal Pharmaceuticals) found that taking 2 mg daily, starting between weeks 12 and 20 of pregnancy and continuing until delivery, increased the rate of premature births and low-birth-weight babies. Not enough is known about the safety of lycopene supplements during breast-feeding. If you are pregnant or breast-feeding, avoid using lycopene in amounts greater than those typically found in foods.

Prostate cancer: Developing laboratory research suggests lycopene might worsen established prostate cancer by increasing the spread of cancer without having any effect on cancer cell growth. Until more is known, avoid lycopene if you have a prostate cancer diagnosis.

Are there interactions with medications?

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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.

Are there interactions with herbs and supplements?

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Beta-carotene
Taking beta-carotene along with lycopene may increase the amount of lycopene that enters the body.

Are there interactions with foods?

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Olestra (fat substitute)
Taking olestra might reduce the amount of lycopene that is absorbed by the body.

What dose is used?

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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.

Other names

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All-Trans Lycopene, All-Trans Lycopène, Cis-Lycopène, Licopeno, Lycopène, Lycopenes, Lycopènes, Psi-Psi-Carotene, Psi-Psi-Carotène.

Methodology

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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).

References

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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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